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New report highlights potential of mine energy in achieving UK net zero target

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World Coal,

A new white paper published by the Mine Energy Taskforce and Local Energy Hub network has called for greater support for mine energy as a key low carbon heat source in the UK that can contribute to government’s ambition to reach net zero by 2050.

The report also outlines how the introduction of large scale mine energy schemes will support government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda by bringing immediate and direct economic benefits to coalfield communities and businesses across the country.

The Mine Energy Taskforce is a national coalition of cross-sector partners co-ordinated by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership that aims to share knowledge and expertise to accelerate deployment of mine energy schemes. The Local Energy Hub network brings together groups of Local Enterprise Partnerships in five different areas of the country to work together with Government to accelerate local energy schemes.

The white paper was developed by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) and funded by Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the North East, Yorkshire and Humber, and Midlands Energy Hubs, and the MCS Charitable Foundation.

Mine energy is the extraction of natural geothermal-heated water that has gathered in the underground networks of former deep coal mines. Over time, water is warmed to around 12 – 20°C.

Using heat pumps, some of the heat can be extracted and used to heat fresh water, which can then be used to provide low carbon heating and hot water for use in domestic and commercial buildings via heat networks, for example. According to the report, the heat from the water is abundant and widely distributed – and if managed correctly – can be constantly available at a self-sustaining and consistent temperature.

One quarter of the UK’s homes and businesses are sited on former coal-fields. The Coal Authority estimates there is sufficient energy in the geo-thermal water found in former coal mines to heat all of the homes on the coalfields.

The report also highlights that the Coal Authority mine water treatment plants are the most convenient and cost-effective way of accessing mine water heat, though the heat can also be accessed via mine shafts and bore-holes. If the 42 schemes currently identified in the Coal Authority’s pipeline were to be built, they would collectively generate projected carbon savings of 90 500 tpy.

Contributors to the white paper include leading academics, local authorities, the Durham Energy Institute, Coalfields Regeneration Trust, British Geological Survey, Coal Authority, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Lord Callanan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, wrote the foreword for the white paper. He said: “At the heart of this government’s agenda are three key priorities: the development of new and innovative sources of employment and economic growth, rapid decarbonisation of our society, and levelling up - reducing the inequalities between different parts of the UK.

“Mine energy, the use of the geothermally heated water in abandoned coal mines, is not a new technology, but it is one with the potential to deliver thousands of jobs and drive economic growth in some of the most disadvantaged communities in our country.

“This report demonstrates that if we only implement the 42 projects currently on the Coal Authority’s books, we will deliver almost 4500 direct jobs and a further 9000 – 11 000 in the supply chain, at the same time saving 90 500 t of carbon.”

Andrew Clark, Energy Programme Lead at the North East LEP, who commissioned the white paper, added: “Decarbonising heat is one of the greatest challenges facing us today, particularly as economies transition to net zero.

“Some of UK’s largest mine energy projects are being developed in the North East, so it made sense for us to lead the exploratory work in this area. Building on our Energy for Growth programme, and with the support of other LEPs in the North East and Yorkshire and the Local Energy Hub network, we convened a Mine Energy Taskforce, which has grown to become a national community of interest with over 40 cross sector organisations around the UK sharing their extensive knowledge and experience.

“This white paper has been developed with extensive stakeholder engagement and we’re very grateful to everyone who has given time and expertise.

“The government reports that our low carbon economy is predicted to grow four times faster than the rest of the economy to 2030 and we believe mine energy can be used to accelerate this further, while achieving our net zero aspirations.

“The North East has a rich mining heritage so we are well placed to tap into the potential benefits and opportunities presented by mine energy.”

In 2019 the UK government became the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. Despite the compelling narrative of using the UK’s legacy fossil fuel infrastructure to support a local carbon future, mine energy is yet to be deployed at scale.

One of its key advantages is the potential environmental and economic benefits it provides in post-industrial mining communities, particularly those that have experienced significant economic and social decline. The white paper outlines how the 42 schemes already identified by the Coal Authority would create up to 15 227 new jobs and contribute £793 million in gross value added (GVA), including direct, indirect, and induced economic effects.

Charlotte Adams, Commercial Manager at the Coal Authority, commented: “We were pleased to be invited to provide technical input to this Mine Energy White Paper. The Coal Authority owns and licenses access to the abandoned mining infrastructure. Reusing this infrastructure, which was created with huge human effort, offers a renaissance for coalfield areas through an opportunity to deliver low carbon heat and support regional economic growth.”

Adrian Ramsay, Chief Executive of MCS Charitable Foundation, said: “We were pleased to provide funding towards this report and welcome its findings.

“As a country we need to step up the drive for net zero emissions in homes and communities, and the report suggests that mine energy could play an important role in the mix of green energy sources. As with the green economy in general, there is significant potential for job creation and I hope the government engages with the report recommendations and the economic and environmental opportunities it highlights.”

Sally Gallagher, Technical Specialist for the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “We all have a role to play in tackling the climate emergency, which is why as an operator and a regulator, the Environment Agency has a leading role in helping the country get to net zero by 2050.

“The decarbonisation of energy used for heating is a significant challenge for the UK and we are pleased to support the launch of the paper on mine water energy, outlining the opportunities across the country to utilise this untapped low carbon resource.

“As the environmental regulator for England, our role is to ensure renewable heat technologies are sustainable and do not adversely impact the environment. We look forward to continuing to work with the Mine Energy Task Force, Local Energy Hub network and Local Enterprise Partnerships to share the knowledge and experience developed in permitting mine energy schemes over the last couple of years.”

Michael Gallagher, Regional Energy Projects Manager at Midlands Energy Hub, added: “Mining used to be a significant source of employment and energy in the Midlands, driving the industrial revolution.

“This white paper was of interest to Nottingham City Council’s Midlands Energy Hub as it is a critical step in enabling the Midlands to realise the potential of Mine Water Energy, supporting the challenge of decarbonisation heat, alongside generating clean, green employment alongside driving down carbon emissions.”

Professor Jon Gluyas, Director of Durham Energy Institute, concluded: “I am delighted to see the publication of the Mine Energy White Paper from the Mine Energy Task Force and Local Energy Hub network. This comprehensive analysis of the potential for using abandoned, flooded and often forgotten mines to deliver sustainable, ultra-low-carbon heat is a critical publication; building upon an idea generated, researched and developed by Dr Charlotte Adams of Durham Energy Institute.

“Development of mine heat will not only help the UK meet its greenhouse gas emission targets, but also generate a new industry and supporting supply chain. The UK built many of its towns and cities where it mined its coal in the North of England, North Midlands, and Central Scotland, reusing the old mines to deliver low-carbon heat will also help deliver the government’s levelling up agenda and attract further inward investment into the North.

“With one project operational and several more due to be delivered in the next couple of years, the white paper will act as a template for sustainable, heat energy delivery across the UK.”

The UK has taken a lead in mine energy, but to ensure its continued growth and subsequent decarbonisation and socio-economic benefits, the sector requires further national support and intervention.

Within the white paper are recommendations to move the sector beyond the need for public subsidy, to increase collaboration and knowledge sharing across stakeholders, and see targeted investments in research and development.

Its publication comes in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, which will be hosted by Glasgow in November, and is designed to accelerate action towards the goals of The Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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