Coal Mines Could Get a Second Life in Heating Homes

A CONSOL Energy Coal Mine

Image: CONSOL Energy

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Just 10 years ago, 40% of the UK’s energy came from coal. Today, the country has two remaining coal plants and plans to end coal-fired power by the end of 2024. All of the coal mines that have already closed across the country have naturally filled with warm water, and people are starting to harness their geothermal ability to provide heat.

With about a quarter of UK residents living above an abandoned mine, the UK Coal Authority sees huge potential. It’s looking into 70 projects that would use the water warmed underground to heat buildings above. 

Why This Matters: Mine water heating could help decarbonize the UK’s heating sector, which consumes about half of the country’s energy. Gas currently dominates as the energy source for heat at about 70%, but it will need to be phased out in order to hit net-zero emissions by 2050. Using mine water would swap out a carbon-emitting heat source for a neutral one, which will be especially important with the EU’s plans to create a carbon market for heating. The switch could be, as the BBC writes, “a serendipitous circle of history” where the coal industry’s “extractive past could be repurposed for a greener, cleaner future.”

Energy Switch is Also an Economic Opportunity: The mine complex in the coastal town of Seaham is closed, but it’s one of the places moving forward with a second act for the abandoned mine. A new development in the town will be the UK’s first district heating plan to use mine water energy, which will be both more climate-friendly and cheaper than gas. There’s hope that the innovative approach to heating will bring new investment and jobs to the area, which has struggled to recover economically from the pit closures decades before. 

A similar situation is playing out in Spain: in the Asturias region, the last coal pit closed in 2018 and mine water now heats various buildings, including a hospital and a university. 

Geothermal energy has given a second life to our coal mines,” María Belarmina Díaz Aguado, the Asturias’s director of energy, told the BBC. “We’re developing an entirely new business model, one related to pumping water and all the technical expertise that involves.”Quitting the Final 1.8%:  In 2019, Great Britain went seven days straight without coal power for the first time since the late 1800s. Last year, only 1.8% of UK electricity came from coal, part of a ramp down over the past decade. Of the two remaining plants, one has no plans to close and just secured a contract through 2022, two years from the stated end of coal power in the UK.

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