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The E-Den Project

Darkness gathers over the E-Den in Soho Square

We sent Sarah Day on a field trip to Soho Square, where she encountered an unlikely Cornish visitor, spreading the word about renewable energy.

Geoscientist 20.8 August 2010

Is it a golf ball? An igloo? No, it’s an ‘E-Den’. Inspired by the Eden Project, the bizarre-looking structure arrived in Soho Square last month, to house representatives from a variety of businesses hoping to raise awareness of Cornwall’s pioneering work in renewable energy. The dome is the creation of InvestinCornwall, which is promoting the county as a business destination, and a leader in the UK’s low carbon revolution.

“Cornwall has fantastic resources”, says Peter Ledingham, Operations Director for GeoScience Limited. “As well as geothermal resources, it’s surrounded on three sides by the ocean, so it has wave, tide and wind resources as well”.

It is the potential for geothermal energy resources which makes Cornwall a particularly attractive area for businesses. “Cornwall has by far the best geothermal resources in the UK’, says Ledingham. ‘The whole of the county is underlain by a granite which is heat producing – the heat flow is about double the national average. That means you can reach commercial temperatures with shallower drilling, and that’s a very big part of the economic case for geothermal development”.

GeoScience Ltd are planning a pilot project in Cornwall which hopes to begin drilling in January 2011, with a power station up and running by 2014 – all subject to funding. But theirs is not the only project underway.

“There are two other projects, like ours, which have sprung up completely independently of each other. I think that’s great – it shows how great the resources are in Cornwall” says Ledingham.

One is being led by the Eden Project which, as well as being a centre for conservation and education, is enthusiastic about the potential for developing renewable energy technology, both in Cornwall and further afield. “It’s something we’re very keen on”, says Dan James, Development Manager at the Eden Project, “particularly low carbon energy. In Cornwall we see ourselves as having a fantastic opportunity to use the county’s assets as a way of creating a new economy for ourselves. Traditionally we’ve focused on farming, fishing and tourism – generally low paid, low skilled jobs. The environmental technology centre could be a way of up-skilling our population and making ourselves more competitive”.

If the project is successful the Eden Project itself could end up being powered solely by geothermal energy. Currently, holes are being drilled in one of its car parks, to see if the granite is a rich enough heat source. If that works, there are plans to use the energy more widely; in particular in one of the government’s eco-town projects.

“One of the sites is about a mile away from the Eden Project’ says James, ‘so we’re looking at pumping some of the heat through to that site as well. We’re thinking that if our site works as a pilot then they might want to build more in the ecotown programme, and hopefully more across Cornwall”.

Geothermal energy is nothing new, particularly in Cornwall, where a great deal of research was carried out in the 1970s and 80s. So why is there so much interest in developing projects now?

“I think it’s because the economic climate has changed”, says Ledingham. “Also the technology for generating electricity has changed, and the willingness to look seriously at renewable energy is much greater than it was 25 years ago when the last geothermal research work was done in Cornwall. The time is right now to have another go at it”.

For Eden, it is not just about generating new energy sources. Geothermal research is forming an integral part of Eden’s project to inspire a new generation of youngsters to view the environment as an important part of their future careers.

“Part of the reason we’re here is to promote a project we’ve just got funding for called Green Talent”, says James, “which will take 5000 14 to 19 year olds through a ‘green induction programme’”.

In partnership with Kew Gardens, the RSPB and the Institute of Business and Education, the project will take the students on a week long induction programme at either Eden or Kew, to give them an insight into the impact the environment will have on future employment opportunities.

Says James: “Hopefully it will get them excited, and thinking of the environment as a career opportunity for them. Once they’ve finished the programme, we send them off to do work experience through companies who are currently looking at how the environment is impacting on how they run their business, to give them a practical experience of how it all works”.