Market Snapshot: Geothermal Power is stable and low carbon, but what is its potential in Canada?

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Release date: 2023-05-31

Geothermal energy has a small environmental footprint and is one of the few renewable energy sources that is always available, has low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, can operate at high capacity factors,Definition* and requires minimal land and fresh water.Footnote1 However, resource exploration risk and capital costs for geothermal plants are high.Footnote2 In 2021, the capacity cost for a geothermal power plant was estimated between US$4,500 to $6,050Footnote3 per kilowatt (kW) of capacity, higher than most solar applications, coal, and natural gas, but lower than nuclear. In terms of the levelized cost of energy,Definition* geothermal energy costs US$56 to $93Footnote4 per megawatt hour (MWh), which is competitive with coal, nuclear, and some solar applications.Footnote5

Almost all current geothermal applications in the country provide heating for hot springs, buildings, agriculture, or industry. The only commercial geothermal power plant in operation in Canada is the Swan Hills Geothermal Power Project in Alberta, commissioned in January 2023.Footnote6Footnote7 Several other proposed geothermal power projects in British Columbia, Alberta, and SaskatchewanFootnote8 could follow later in the decade (Table 1).

Table 1: Current and proposed Canadian geothermal power projects
Current and proposed Canadian geothermal power projects
Name Start Capacity (MW) Location Proponents Notes
Deek Riddell Eavor-Lite Demonstration Facility December 2019 Information not available Near Rocky Mountain House, AB Eavor Technologies Inc Pilot (technology demonstrator) project
Swan Hills Geothermal Power Project January 2023 6 Swan Hills, AB FutEra Power Corp (subsidiary Razor Energy Corp) Coproduced geothermal power plant with 21 MW capacity (30% geothermal, 70% natural gas).
Latitude 53 project Information not available 3 Near Hinton, AB Novus Earth, Mitacs National Research Organization Natural Resources Canada announced a $5 million investment in June 2022 for feasibility and pre-front-end engineering design (FEED) studies under the Smart Renewables and Electrification (SREPs) program. Drilling expected in Q3 2023.
Alberta No. 1 Geothermal Project Information not available 10 South of Grande Prairie, AB Terrapin Geothermics
Tu Deh-Kah Geothermal Early 2026 7 – 10 South of Fort Nelson, BC Fort Nelson First Nation (FNFN) Formerly Lake Clarke Geothermal Project.
DEEP Summer 2024 5 Torquay, SK DEEP Earth Energy Production Corp Will be built in two phases, the first with 5 MW, followed by 20 MW. The site could support multiple facilities up to 200 MW.
Kitselas Geothermal Information not available Information not available Near Terrace, BC Borealis Geothermal, Gits'llaasu First Nation First stage provides direct heating. Previously planned with 15 MW capacity.
Meager Creek Geothermal Project Information not available Information not available Approximately 70 km northwest of Pemberton, BC Meager Creek Development Corp High temperature (>200°C) resource with a potential power capacity over 100 MW.

Sources: GLJ, Think Geoenergy, DOB, Razor Energy (FutEra), Borealis Geothermal, Terrapin, DEEP Corp, NovusEarth, Kitselas Geothermal, Meager Creek Development Corp

The federal government is providing support for geothermal energy under several programs like Natural Resource Canada's Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways (SREPs) program and Canada's Emerging Renewable Power Program, in addition to geoscience research programs. Alberta,Footnote9Footnote10 British Columbia,Footnote11 and Nova ScotiaFootnote12 created regulatory frameworks for geothermal energy development, with Yukon actively developing regulations.Footnote13 Saskatchewan works within existing regulations to regulate geothermal development while is providing support to the DEEP geothermal demonstration project through the Innovation Saskatchewan Advantage Innovation Fund.

Where is Canada’s geothermal potential located?

In Canada, most geothermal resources are in western Canada, but a small amount exists in eastern Canada. Outside major volcanic belts in the west, the Canadian CordilleraDefinition* shows large variability in heat flow from the Earth, indicating great potential for geothermal resources. Abundant thermal springs signify areas with good geothermal potential. In addition, Canada is covered by extensive sedimentary basins containing a great deal of warm to hot fluid in porous rocks. In regions of northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta, and southern Northwest Territories, temperatures that exceed 150°C are known at depths as shallow as three kilometres, which have the potential for electric generation.Footnote14

What is geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy is heat generated from the Earth’s crust, stored in the rock and fluids that fill the fractures and pores within the Earth’s subsurface.Footnote15Footnote16 Geothermal energy can be used in areas with high-temperature geothermal resources. These are generally located alongside the edges of tectonic platesDefinition* or in regions where hot rock is relatively close to the Earth’s surface or in volcanic regions. Geothermal energy can be used to provide hot water and heating (direct use) or for power generationFootnote17 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Geothermal energy and its uses

Geothermal energy and its uses
Source and Description

Source: US Department of Energy, “Geovision: Harnessing the Heat Beneath our Feet,” Chapter 2, Figure 2-7. Adapted by the CER.

Description: The diagram shows the different uses of geothermal energy, broken down by direct use for heating (space heating, agriculture, and industrial facilities) and power generation. Temperatures are reported in Celsius and Fahrenheit degrees.

History of geothermal applications and current global use

Geothermal energy from hot springs has been used for centuries to heat public baths and buildings. In 1913, it was used to generate electricity in the first commercial geothermal plant in Larderello, Italy.Footnote18 The world’s geothermal energy capacity in 2021 was 15,854 megawatts (MW), equivalent to 11% of Canada’s total electricity capacity. The United States accounts for 3,794 MW, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, New Zealand, Mexico, and 18 other countries.Footnote19 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The top ten countries using geothermal energy in 2021

Source and Description

Source: Think Geoenergy

Description: The bar chart (left) shows the top ten countries in 2021 with geothermal power by installed geothermal capacity in megawatts (MW).

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