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Home ยป Abandoned Coal Mines Providing Cheaper, Clean Energy For Homes

Abandoned Coal Mines Providing Cheaper, Clean Energy For Homes

Mines are keeping 350 homes in Gateshead warm once again but now without burning a single lump of coal.

Councillor John McElroy is the local council’s environment and transport leader.

He said: “We did it for several reasons. It’s great for the environment that we use mines as the natural sort of source of heat, but also it works out economically as well. Great for the customer who’s getting good value energy.”

Image: Boreholes have been sunk to tap the flooded workings. Pic: Coal Authority So what’s the secret?

Coal was mined from under Gateshead and beneath much of the North East of England for hundreds of years until the last pits were closed in the 1990s.

It was the fuel for the industrial revolution and the heat source for millions of homes.

But when the mines shut down, the shafts and tunnels tend to flood and that water is warm – anything from 15 – 40C (59-104F) and generally hotter with greater depth as a result of geothermal energy from the Earth’s crust.

In Gateshead, they are now piping the water into a heat pump – an industrial version of what’s being recommended for homes as a replacement for gas boilers.

Hot water is then circulated to local homes and businesses through a network of pipes.

Image: The geothermally heated water is extracted from flooded mines. Pic: Coal Authority It isn’t zero carbon as it still demands some electricity from the grid, though an on-site solar park boosts the renewable proportion and it is much more climate friendly than just using gas.

That matters to Scott Morrison, Environment Manager, of the nearby iconic Glass House International Centre for Music.

Image: A carbon based economy is now providing clean benefits. Pic: Coal Authority He said: “We feel really lucky to be part of this network.

“There’s the carbon emissions savings. We’ve got a 2030 net zero target. And thanks to solar power and the main water heat pump, that really helps us achieve our target.

“Also there’s cost savings for us. It can be up to 5% cheaper than if we were getting energy from the grid.”

Although not a huge reduction, the mine water powered network is warming social housing in some of Gateshead’s poorest neighbourhoods and some geologists believe this low carbon solution could be used much more widely.

Image: An on-site solar park helps power the scheme. Pic: Coal Authority Because so many of our towns and cities grew up around coal mines and their associated industry, it’s thought that around one quarter of UK homes – six million households – are close to old coal pits.

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Charlotte Adams is the mine water lead for the Coal Authority, which now manages the old mines.

She said: “Since mines are no longer used, many have filled up with water that’s heated by naturally occurring thermal processes.

“We can use the heat in that water as an energy supply for the future. I feel it’s a vast resource. So it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for ages.”

It’s expansion would depend on greater deployment of heat networks, where the hot water is piped to your home rather than the gas needed for boilers on your property: something common in continental Europe but still quite rare in the UK.

“A big advantage for tenants in the blocks of social housing connected in Gateshead is a lower carbon without cost to them or any disturbance to their homes.”

Image: Pic: Coal Authority But the scheme’s backers and the council in Gateshead believe they are now at the forefront of a green revolution that could make a real difference to people’s lives.

Councillor McElroy also thinks that its important that the mines – which closed amidst such controversy – are useful once again.

He said: “My father was a miner. He actually dug some of these, main workings. And, of course he realised that it was a dirty, dangerous, occupation. That carbon based economy is now benefiting us in a clean based economy.”

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