Geothermal energy to power Quebec schools

An innovative project spearheaded by Polytechnique Montréal and number of partners will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the energy efficiency of buildings, its proponents say.

Launched today and funded at the provincial and federal levels, the multimillion-dollar project involves using standing column wells (SCWs) of geothermal energy to electrify institutional and commercial buildings in Quebec.

The initiative is led by the Polytechnique with several partners: Université de Montréal; Hydro-Québec; the school service centres of Montreal, Seigneurie-des-Mille-Îles and Les Samares; the CanmetENERGY research centre of Natural Resources Canada; The Quebec Education Department (MEQ); and two companies, Versaprofiles and Marmott Énergies.

Hydro-Québec is providing $1 million in funding, with another $1.7 million coming from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The MEQ will cover the costs associated with the construction of the geothermal systems, while the other partners will contribute the equivalent of $1.1 million in staff time.

Philippe Pasquier, a professor at Polytechnique Montréal and holder of the Research Chair in Geothermal Energy on the Integration of PCPs in Institutional Buildings, will lead the research work of a team of 10 researchers.

The team includes Erick Lachapelle, an UdeM political science  professor and member of the Centre for Research on Policy and Social Development, the Interuniversity Research Centre for Science and Technology and the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales de l’UdeM.

Demonstrating its effectiveness

The buildings sector is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, mainly due to their use of fossil fuels. Several solutions have been put forward to rectify this situation, including the use of conventional geothermal systems.

This approach is proving difficult to adopt, however, due to high construction costs and the density of buildings in urban areas. SCWs help solve those problems: sunk into the ground to a depth of 500 metres and using groundwater directly, they have limited space constraints.

Nevertheless, Canada has been slow to adopt SCW technology. There are a number of concerns: it is more complex, has few pilot projects to demonstrate its effectiveness, and lacks qualified personnel. Groundwater quality may also be affected by the operation of SCWs.

The new project promises to address each of these concerns, its proponents say.

“SEWs have been used for some 30 years in the northeastern United States,” said Pasquier. “Their strength lies in the great thermal power they can provide, making them a more economical approach than the one used in geothermal energy to date.”

He added: “The lack of pilot projects and experienced personnel in Canada has been a hindrance to its development to date. We are confident that our project will make a difference and at the same time confirm the safety of SEWs in terms of groundwater quality.”