New study explores potential to use old Cornish mines to heat homes

Wednesday 27th April 2022 6:53 am
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The historic Botallack Tin Mine workings in West Cornwall
The iconic Botallack Mine workings in West Cornwall, familiar from their use as a location in the Poldark TV adaptations of Winston Graham’s novels, are among the places being assessed for potential use to harness geothermal energy. (Picture: Kevin Walsh/Wikipedia Commons )

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A NEW study hopes to give Cornwall’s abandoned mines a new lease of life by demonstrating their potential to heat homes.

Cornwall Council, LiveWest and the National Trust have been awarded £67,000 from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to explore the potential for sustainable energy from warm water in flooded abandoned mines.

Each organisation has pledged an additional £11,000 to the project, which is being carried out at Geevor, Levant and Botallack mines near Pendeen.

Water within the mines is warmed by natural processes due to the granite bedrock and could provide a continuous supply of heat. Mine water temperatures are not affected by seasonal variations, and combined with heat pump technology, could provide renewable, lower cost and low carbon heating.

The initial study is seeking to explore the use of mine water heating using shafts at Geevor Tin Mine in order to provide heating to LiveWest’s housing stock in the adjacent Boscaswell Estate, Geevor Tin Mine tourist attraction and Levant Mine visitors’ attraction.

If successful, this work could provide a model for the use of mineshafts across Cornwall in the future and with around 400 abandoned mines, mine water heat could improve options for off-gas grid communities and play an important role in meeting carbon neutral ambitions.

Stephen Rushworth, Cornwall Council cabinet portfolio holder for economy, said: “In Cornwall half of homes do not have access to mains gas, and so most rely on oil, LPG or electric night storage heating. Many homes are not suitable for air source heat pumps without expensive energy efficiency measures. This feasibility study could greatly improve options for our residents and further develop Cornwall’s geothermal industry.”

Martyn Alvey, Cornwall Council cabinet portfolio holder for environment and climate change said: “Cornwall Council is committed to working with our communities to reduce carbon emissions and the impacts of climate change. This project is a great opportunity to explore innovative low carbon heating solutions for our rural communities.”

Tim Wotton, Green Funding Manager for LiveWest, said: “We are delighted to be joining our partners in this innovative project which could result in more sustainable energy in our homes.

“As well as saving tonnes of CO2 every year, residents could also see savings in their bills at a time when energy costs are rising.

“We place sustainability at the heart of our organisation and we are committed to reducing the environmental impact of our activities to create a clean and sustainable future for our customers, employees and our families.

“With local councils declaring climate emergencies across the South West and, as the largest housing provider in this region, we wanted to renew our environmental commitments in order to embed sustainability across the organisation and to assist our local authority partners to achieve the goals outlined in their Climate Action Plans.

“We have set ourselves measurable targets, increasing the energy efficiency of our homes and promoting sustainable behaviour change for both customers and colleagues which all contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

“We aim to promote sustainable solutions working with our joint venture partners to help them to meet their needs but also to contribute to creating a low-carbon economy and support thriving, vibrant communities.

“These steps demonstrate our commitment to protecting the environment for today and the future.”

Ian Marsh, National Trust General Manager West Cornwall, said: “We’re very excited to be working with Cornwall Council, LiveWest and Geevor Mine to look at the possibility of generating heat from flooded mine workings.  The fact that they were once kept dry by steam engines, symbols of the Industrial Revolution, and could now generate carbon free heat for both National Trust places and the communities that surround them, is fascinating.

“As a charity we are committed to action against climate change, including being net zero in our carbon use by 2030, we’re delighted to be contributing to the project and believe that the potential learning from this study will be invaluable.”

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