United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project

The project

The University of Plymouth’s Sustainable Earth Institute is conducting independent research into perceptions and attitudes about the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project in Cornwall.

There are three main areas of research for the project:

  • Psychology - trying to understand how people picture the geological subsurface, and what emotions people feel about a geothermal power project.
  • Sociology - investigating the impact of the media on communications about geothermal, and using state-of-the art software to assess how people access and interpret any new media information.
  • Communications - looking at how to improve communications between companies interested in this new technology and the residents that will live near potential geothermal sites.

Take part in current research

Support our research and take part in a short survey to investigate how people talk about geothermal power, in particular the different interpretations associated with technical language. Some demographic data is requested, but all results will be anonymous. Take part in the research

Do you live in Cornwall? 

Are you interested in getting involved with the project? Contact us to take part in the research:

The project is a partnership of organisations exploring if geothermal power is a viable energy resource for the UK. It is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Cornwall Council.

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A conventional geothermal system is used in most traditional geothermal plants, such as in Iceland.

What is Geothermal?

The three main types of geothermal power are conventional, enhanced, and Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs). In order to work, the geological systems need water, heat and pressure. Conventional geothermal has all three, and uses steam from water naturally found in hot (often volcanic) rocks near the surface to drive turbines to produce electricity and heat.

Enhanced geothermal (engineered geothermal) generates energy from rocks that are missing some of the key elements. Deep geothermal is a type of enhanced geothermal that has heat, sometimes water, but not enough pressure. This means that drills drill down to hot rocks and draw water through a high temperature system. The hot water often heats a secondary fluid which turns to steam. This steam drives a turbine, creating electricity.

GSHPs are found in small developments. The system is very shallow and usually only generates heat.

Geothermal in the UK

The two most common types of geothermal in the UK is deep geothermal and Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs). 

Deep geothermal

Deep geothermal technology is fairly new to the UK, but has the potential to become a major source of energy for our country. 

At the moment one of the most visible ways that deep geothermal is being used is in the production of direct heat. 

An example of this is at the Jubilee Pool in Penzance where this technology is being used to heat a section of the outdoor swimming pool. 

The heated section of the pool will be open to the public in the summer of 2019 and will be a great example of how geothermal technology can be utilised across the UK.

Ground source heat pumps

Unlike deep geothermal, GSHPs are what most people think of when you ask them about geothermal power that isn’t conventional, but they work very differently to deep geothermal. GSHPs use buried pipes, often in gardens, to extract heat from the ground. However, unlike deep geothermal this heat doesn’t come from the Earth, but from the Sun. This makes GSHPs closely related to solar power. The reason that GSHPs work in this way is because the Sun’s rays heat the top layer of the ground in the same way that on a sunny day the ground can feel warm.

This heat is stored for a short period of time in the soil or near surface rocks (often less than 10m underground) and can be collected from the soil using pipes with a special working fluid in them that is more sensitive to small temperature changes than water. The difference in temperature between the working fluid and the water in your home means that the heat can be used to heat hot water, radiators, and underfloor heating. However, because the difference in temperature is smaller than with deep geothermal GSHPs also can also be used for air conditioning in the Summer.

Find out more about GSHPs on the British Geological Survey website

Geothermal in Cornwall

The type of geothermal power being investigated in Cornwall is Deep Geothermal. Deep geothermal is when heat from the Earth itself is used to produce energy, by drilling wells into hot rocks far underground and pumping water through an engineered or ‘enhanced’ system.

The naturally hot granite heats up the water, which is then pumped up the well. When the hot water reaches the surface, the heat drives a turbine. This turbine generates electricity, which is fed into the Western Power network.

The now cool water travels back down the other well to continue the cycle. If successful, this will be the UK’s first geothermal power plant, just outside Redruth in Cornwall.

Project members

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

The University of Plymouth is proud to be supported by the European Regional Development Fund. As one stream of funding under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014–2020, the ERDF focuses on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The main priorities involve contributions to research and innovation, supporting and promoting small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), and the creation of a low carbon economy. 

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Our courses in this area are consistently ranked among the best in the world and we have researchers considered leaders in their field in chemistry, geography, geology and environmental science

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