Joe Ireland, PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast attended The World Geothermal Congress 2023 (WGC) in Beijing from the 15th to 17th September 2023. He shares some of the hot takes from the triennial conference attended by more than 1,400 guests from 54 countries and regions across the world. 

The conference often referred to as the “Olympics of the Geothermal Industry” is the leading global platform where leaders from industry, academia, the finance sector, governments, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and communities share the latest scientific and technological achievements and collaborate on solutions to build a sustainable society. I attended to discuss my research into collective visions for geothermal sector development in Northern Ireland (NI) – the subject area of my PhD study.  

Northern Ireland has had much attention in the geothermal area with the recent launch of the GeoEnergy NI demonstrator project showcasing the beginning of big plans to come. Other countries appear to be very interested in the collaborative, cooperative, and co-creative efforts that were published with the NI Steering Wheel Vision, a vision that was first defined during Northern Ireland Geothermal Week in June 2022. Working together appears to be a global challenge with the word cooperation being repeatedly seen as a priority.  

China hosted the WGC with the conference’s tagline, “Clean Geothermal, Green Earth,” underscoring its progress and plans on the global renewables stage. It was evident that China was determined to make a resounding statement in line with its Dual Carbon Strategy within the 14th Five-Year Plan. This strategy aims to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Geothermal is undoubtedly playing its part and data shared at the event suggested that over 30 million Chinese homes are now heated or cooled with geothermal energy with those figures increasing all the time.  

Guest blogger Joseph Ireland with some of the delegation from the World Geothermal Congress 2023 and Joseph enjoying some downtime, taking in the sights that China had to offer during his visit.

We have often heard that geothermal energy is a niche source of energy and that the current deployment rate is insufficient to make a real impact globally. Most historic arguments in making this case centred around “Geothermal for Power” applications and ignore the upward trend in this sector as well as recent promising technology advancements.  

But what often gets lost almost entirely in this assessment is the direct use of Geothermal heat, whether it is in buildings, industries, agriculture or other applications. The growth rate of ‘direct use’ of geothermal energy globally should be firmly highlighted and this is particularly where we believe the opportunity exists for Northern Ireland.  

Based on the data shared at the recent WGC, we heard that the direct use of geothermal energy is now deployed in 88 countries compared to only 28 in 1995, meaning that almost 45% of all countries are adopting geothermal energy for direct use. The total installed capacity of geothermal systems for direct applications reached 173 GWt (Giga Watt) in 2023, with an annual thermal energy production of 410 TWh (Terra Watt). In 1995, these figures were just 9 GWt and 31 TWh, respectively. This is impressive growth which would suggest that Northern Ireland is right to be examining the role that geothermal can play in decarbonising the heat sector locally. 

Graphs illustrate countries deploying geothermal for energy for direct use the total installed capacity and annual production of geothermal energy for direct use. Data shared from the World Geothermal Congress collated by Mehdi Yusifov.

Admittedly, there are notable differences in the types of challenges facing direct-use applications of geothermal and those for power generation. Hence the need for new business models and innovation. Among other things, the GeoEnergy NI project will contribute much to this area.

My visit to China reinforced the idea that, while we label the renewable energy resource “geothermal”, it encompasses a far more diverse spectrum than other renewable ecosystems like wind, biomass, or solar. It interfaces with many energy systems – for example; thermal fabric, heat pumps, the built environment, geology, heat networks, thermal storage, and thermal recycling. Geothermal forms a complex web of connections that we must learn to pivot between, interlink and collaborate with if we are to see sectoral growth. 

The Congress concluded with the Beijing Declaration which saw 54 countries spanning all five continents standing together to drive the sustainable development of the geothermal energy sector. Sylvain Brogle, President of the IGA, closed with three priorities, one of which was to “Start a new era of geothermal where we work together in all areas of the geothermal value chain growing out of the niche market.” 

Sylvain then left us with a final thought, “It always seems impossible until it’s not. We have a responsibility on us and that is the inspired task.” 

Geothermal is undoubtedly on the rise globally and the GeoEnergy NI project has come at just the right time to ensure that Northern Ireland can be inspired to harness the potential of geothermal. 


Blog References:  
Palmer, M., Ireland, J., Ofterdinger, U., Zhang, M. (2022). Net zero pathways: Building the geothermal energy sector in Northern Ireland. Department for the Economy. Technical Report, pp.1-136.  
Palmer, M., Ireland, J., Ofterdinger, U., Zhang, M. (2022). #NIGeothermalWeek: Defining the vision for geothermal energy in Northern Ireland. Department for the Economy. Technical Report, pp.1-54.  
Palmer, M., Frew, A., Barron, N., Ireland, J., Li, C., (2023). Pivoting the geoenergy nexuses,  Queen’s University Belfast, pp.1-43.