Robert McGregor, Head of Faculty, Coleraine Grammar School 

We all know by now how critical it is to tackle climate change and about the need to decarbonise our economy and society before it’s too late. We need to move very quickly and as educators we know we have our part to play in informing the next generation and equipping them to be part of the solution.   

Not surprisingly, we are spending more of our time talking about these issues and learning about the science and engineering that is required to tackle this huge issue, including renewable energies such as wind and solar power as well as hydro and tidal energies. But even we were surprised to hear from the Department for the Economy’s GeoEnergy NI project that Northern Ireland has very suitable geology conditions which offers huge potential for geothermal energy – or as they call it ‘the heat beneath our feet’.  

It was why, when we were approached to be a school’s host for their inaugural GeoEnergy NI roadshow that was visiting the north coast, we were only too delighted to facilitate the visit. The timing was perfect as we had a Year 14 group visit Iceland recently where they of course found out about how they have been harnessing geothermal energy for over a hundred years.  Little did they know at that stage, that we could also potentially use this valuable renewable resource much closer to home. That, as we later found out, is one of the main purposes of the GeoEnergy NI project. As well as working on two demonstrator projects in Stormont and around CAFRE, near Antrim they are seeking to inform the Northern Ireland public, businesses and stakeholders about this yet untapped resource. Through a targeted communications programme and project materials such as the GeoEnergy Discovery Centre and their website, they are highlighting how it can play an important part in helping us decarbonise the NI economy and deliver renewable energy to heat and cool our homes, our businesses and our schools or hospitals in the future.  

As well as having nearly 100 of our own pupils hear a presentation on the project and Northern Ireland’s geothermal potential with some being lucky enough to experience the mobile GeoEnergy Discovery Centre, we played host to our neighbouring Coleraine schools, Loreto College, Coleraine College, and DH Christie Primary School. They all sent a group of students to visit the mobile visitor experience, where they heard from the project’s knowledgeable Geo Ambassadors and sampled the interactive exhibits including Virtual Reality headsets which brought the subject matter to life.  

The feedback from our students and those of our visiting schools was very positive and they and their teachers all left with a better understanding of the heat beneath our feet and how we can look to harness that energy. Indeed, we learned that some are already doing so here in Northern Ireland, including the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre which, despite being on our doorstep, surprised most of us.  

It also became clear that given the scale and importance of the climate change challenge that we will need a pipeline of skills to meet this challenge head on. That is where we believe it is important that schools can play their part in both educating and signposting pupils to the future career opportunities that exist in this space.    

If you get an opportunity to visit the GeoEnergy Discovery Centre in the near future I would advise you to do so. You may even wish to be a host school and welcome neighbouring schools to join you so that more can experience it. You will certainly come away better informed about something that while hidden beneath our feet, offers huge potential to protect the future of our planet for the next generation and as the project video concludes, that is ‘a future powered by the planet itself’.