UK’s abandoned flooded coal mines set to lead a solution to climate change

Mining was once the beating heart of the seaside town of Seaham on the north east coast of England, with three wells employing thousands of people at its peak.

But the pits also brought tragedy when two mining disasters wiped out generations of men and boys, tearing families apart.

A poignant memorial to the hundreds of people who perished in its underground chambers still stands as a reminder of the sacrifices and sufferings endured by the community.

Now, decades after the last mine closed, the pits are about to be remastered and once again play a central role in the community.

In a pioneering initiative, Seaham is expected to be at the forefront of the country’s renewable energy ambitions – which will be showcased when the UK hosts Cop26 next month.

Water from old flooded pits is expected to provide heat and hot water to hundreds of homes in a process that will produce almost no carbon and provide a cost-effective alternative energy source.

“We are delighted to be part of such an exciting project that will truly put County Durham on the renewable energy map,” said Councilor Kevin Shaw, Member of the Durham County Council Cabinet for Housing and strategic assets.

“We have set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions over the coming years and are delighted to be part of such an exciting project.

“Geothermal technology has the potential to have a zero carbon footprint, which has huge implications not only for the environment, but also for our communities and our economy.

“By introducing it into our former coalfields, we will make them more attractive to investors, while helping to fight against fuel poverty.

It is hoped that the Seaham project will be replicated across the UK and that the national grid of 23,000 abandoned deep coal mines will be reallocated.

Currently, water from flooded mines is pumped and cleaned to prevent it from contaminating drinking water supplies and then discharged into the sea.

It is already hot when it reaches the surface, due to temperatures inside the Earth – and will be warmed further until it reaches 60 ° C as part of the project.

It will then be sent to homes and businesses.

In Seaham, a new garden village of 1,500 houses, a school and businesses will become the first in the UK to benefit from it.

It is estimated that a quarter of the British population lives above old coal mines which contain 2.2 million GWh of heated water.

The Coal Authority, which oversees the old pits on behalf of the government, is committed to creating a better future out of the UK’s mining past, and believes there may be enough power in the flooded mines and abandoned to heat all the houses on the coal basins.

He believes power from mine water could be crucial in solving Britain’s energy crisis, with Seaham Garden Village potentially the first of many similar projects.

“Heat from abandoned coal mines is an innovative and practical solution to one of the great challenges facing the economy – the decarbonization of our heating supplies,” said Jeremy Crooks, Innovation Manager at the Coal Authority.

“This sustainable energy source would also have greater benefits, as it would also attract new investment, create jobs and reduce fuel bills at Seaham Garden Village and other district heating systems to be built on the coalfields.” .

“The abandoned coal mines in the UK offer us a huge opportunity as a source of geothermal energy.”

It currently has 80 sites where water rises to the surface, producing around 100 megawatts of heat that is currently not in use.

There are over 40 regions across the UK which are taking advantage of government funding to conduct feasibility studies to see if the project could be introduced in their regions.

With the recent energy crisis in the UK causing gas prices to rise and the shutdown of vital industries, the option of alternative energy sources is a priority for the government.

“Extracted water energy is a very viable solution when looking to help resolve Britain’s future energy crisis,” said Mr Crooks.

“Mine heat can be a source of energy that is unaffected by external factors, which means it has a stable price and is not subject to variations or increases. energy price futures.

“It has the potential to be an important and sustainable source of energy for the UK, while providing many business benefits.

“The construction of Seaham Garden Village has huge implications for the future of energy in the UK and could lead to the construction of district heating systems, heated commercial spaces and underground horticultural centers in the coal mining areas. .

“This breakthrough is also important when we consider the impact of climate change and the steps the UK is taking to reduce its carbon footprint as we enter an era of climate change awareness.”

Mine water is a renewable energy source that also has the potential to have a zero carbon footprint, he said.

“The delivery method is much cheaper than district heating systems using higher temperatures, where metal pipes are essential and have greater temperature losses, making networks such as Seaham Garden Village much more viable than most district heating systems, ”he said.

“Notably, when mine water is collected closer to the surface, it can be cheaper than public gas and is ideal for district heating, commercial space heating and horticultural use. “

In June, the Mine Energy Taskforce and Local Energy Hub released a white paper calling for greater support for mining energy as the UK’s leading low-carbon heat source that can contribute to ambition. government to achieve net zero by 2050.

He said that if the 42 projects currently identified in the Coal Authority’s pipeline were to be built, they would collectively generate projected carbon savings of 90,500 tonnes per year, create up to 15,227 new jobs and contribute millions to l ‘economy.

“The government reports that our low-carbon economy is expected to grow four times faster than the rest of the economy by 2030 and we believe that mining energy can be used to further accelerate this growth, while achieving our net zero aspirations, “Andrew Clark, Energy Northeast LEP program manager, who commissioned the white paper, said.

“The northeast has a rich mining heritage, so we are well positioned to harness the potential benefits and opportunities presented by mining energy.

Lord Callanan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said if the 42 planned projects were built they would save 90,500 tonnes of carbon and create 4,500 direct jobs and 11,000 more in the supply chain.

“Mining power, the use of geothermally heated water in abandoned coal mines, is not a new technology, but it has the potential to create thousands of jobs and spur economic growth in the region. some of the most disadvantaged communities in our country, ”he said.

Professor Jon Gluyas, director of the Durham Energy Institute, said the project will create a new industry in the UK.

“The development of mining heat will not only help the UK meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets, but will also generate a new industry and a supportive supply chain,” he said. declared.

“The UK has built many of its towns and villages where it has mined its coal in the north of England, the North Midlands and central Scotland. Reusing old mines to provide low-carbon heat will also help implement the government’s upgrade program and attract more foreigners. investment in the North.

“With one project operational and several more to be delivered over the next two years, the White Paper will serve as a model for the delivery of sustainable thermal energy across the UK. “

Update: October 16, 2021, 3:59 am


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