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Major study on geothermal potential to get underway in May

A research project aiming to define opportunities for developing geothermal heat supply at likely prospects along the length of the West Coast will get underway in May.

Project leader GNS Science has secured enough funding to make a start on the six-month project that aims to identify the areas of greatest potential for development of geothermal heat for direct use such as in horticulture, hot pools, accommodation facilities, and industrial applications. The possibility of small scale electricity generation will also be considered.

GNS Science has secured 80 percent of the $205,000 in funding needed to undertake the study and is confident the balance will come through in the coming months.

The lead funder is Development West Coast. Chief Executive Chris Mackenzie said ”the Trustees deemed this to be a worthwhile project to be involved with. It is critical that DWC looks at all opportunities for future economic development opportunities and employment on the Coast.“

The Regional and District Councils have also committed or indicated financial support to the project.

The main output of the project will be a report that describes and ranks prospects for geothermal heat supply development. Its aim is to identify up to four prospects for detailed investigation in subsequent stages. The study area will range from Fox Glacier to Murchison and extend to places such as Lake Brunner.

Project spokesman Dave Jennings of GNS Science said the initial science work would be desk-based bringing together knowledge about the geothermal conditions of the Southern Alps, while aiming to match this with potential users, both existing and in the future.

Jennings also mentioned his appreciation for the early funders for the project, saying “while small in the overall funding, the early commitment from Westland Milk Products, Gloriavale Christian Community and NZ Thermal Ltd provided the impetus to pull the rest of the funding together.”

Depending on the outcome of this study, phase two would involve fieldwork on high priority sites and the final phase would be the development of pilot projects that businesses could tap into.

Lead scientist, Brian Carey of GNS Science, said the project was a great opportunity which he was excited about and looking forward to leading.

“My focus is on a thorough assessment of those geothermal heat prospects that might ultimately produce value for businesses on the West Coast.

“GNS Science will involve planning and engineering expertise to support the scientific work that will be aiming to move towards practical implementation of projects in subsequent phases.”

Carey said the science work would be reviewed by an international peer reviewer.

Surface expressions in the form of hot springs are common along the 500km length of the Alpine Fault. Scientists have known about hot water and heat from the backbone of the Southern Alps for a number decades and the outcome of the Whataroa-based Deep Fault Drilling Project in 2014, has raised its profile. At Whataroa scientists encountered water hot enough to boil at 600m depth.


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