Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Brown coal's role in clean energy

Tuesday 22/12/2009 Page: 12

VICTORIA'S beleaguered brown coal could, ironically, be the answer to providing clean, renewable base-load power. Academics at the University of Melbourne assessing the potential of geothermal energy in Victoria have pinpointed the Latrobe Valley as an exciting hot spot. They are leading a project to provide an independent report to answer whether geothermal - the process of using the heat in the earths core to generate electricity at the surface - will play a significant role in supplying Victoria's future energy needs or whether it will remain a niche concept.

Professor Mike Sandiford, a geologist at the university, said research had found that temperatures beneath the Latrobe Valley were higher at a depth of 700 metres than anywhere else in Australia. "Southern Victoria has very insulating rocks and there ares no more insulating rocks than coal," he said. "Rather than producing heat, they act as a thermal blanket and trap it underneath. "We estimate it could be 200 degrees Celsius at four kilometres down, but it is hard to see through coal so we need to drill some test holes to make an assessment."

A steering committee, including the public policy- focused Grattan Institute, will meet the Victorian Government today to ask for about $200,000 to complete their study. About $50 million will later be sought to drill slim-line holes to test the heat source at depth. That could set them on a collision course, though, with Greenearth Energy, which has received the licence to drill in the Latrobe Valley. The Victorian Government recently handed $25 million to Greenearth Energy, which is planning to drill around Geelong and develop a 12-MW geothermal demonstration plant.