Will deep geothermal enable Switzerland to be carbon neutral by 2050?

Switzerland must become carbon neutral while decommissioning nuclear power and reducing foreign energy dependency. The Energy Strategy 2050 is promising but insufficient. Deep Geothermal Energy (DGE) could provide a significant part of the solution.

Global greenhouse gases emissions have reached an all-time high in 2018 (Global Carbon Project 2018). On August 28, 2019, the Swiss Government declared Switzerland’s imperative to become carbon neutral by 2050. In 2018, 73% of Switzerland’s energy originated from non-renewable sources, such as oil, gas, coal and nuclear.

The Energy Strategy 2050 presents a shift towards more renewable energy sources, such as hydropower, solar photovoltaic, wind and deep geothermal energy, in the form of electricity. While the strategy is promising, it hardly seems achievable for three reasons:
  1. Time: at the current rate (40-60 MW of added renewable capacity per year), replacing non-renewable with renewable sources will take at least 46 years for nuclear, plus 61, 155, and 59 additional years to replace oil, fuels and gas respectively (SFOE Annual Statistics 1999, 2018, 2019). Assuming an optimistic 2% annual growth of the current renewable installation rate, it will take a century to replace nuclear, oil, fuel and gas!
  2. Resources: deployment of solar and wind renewable is heavily dependent on technologies requiring raw materials that are mined using cheap and abundant fossil energy.
  3. Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI): the functioning of our economics and society is estimated to require ERoEI above 9:1. Recent studies indicate ERoEI for solar PV getting below 3:1 in sunny Spain and below unity for moderate insolated countries like Switzerland or Germany (no consensus).

Deep geothermal energy offers the greatest theoretical potential. However, current technologies have not proven yet the capability of installing a 5 MW plant and are often criticized for induced seismicity. Seismo Earth AG located in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, is developing a patent-pending technology for deep geothermal heat exchange in industrial power production. Given the strategic importance of the challenges, the viability and sustainability of renewable energy sources must be scrutinized. Our research and technology development focus on increasing the efficiency of DGE plants, applying a systemic optimization of raw material and energy needs inputs, considering the whole plants life cycle. Our goal is to present an alternative answer.

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Das Ende der Megamaschine (2015)