Hot rocks

Geothermal energy is not new, but it's gaining in the race to net-zero

As the world shifts to a sustainable future, Tenaris, with more than 30 years of experience working in this area, supports customers with design and on-site running support of specific products.

#9-December 2023

The potential of geothermal for heating homes and generating power has been around for centuries. The first plant to harness the earth's internal heat for electricity was invented in 1904 in Tuscany, Italy. 

Yet, while more such projects have been built for power generation and direct-source heat, it's still not as developed as possible. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, Geothermal still only accounts for 0.5% of the world's installed renewable power capacity – and 3% of the capacity for renewable heating and cooling.

Tenaris hopes to help increase this share with the supply of casing and services for geothermal projects worldwide. 

"We see great potential," says Fabio Bianco, Sales Manager at Tenaris. "We are deploying all our services to support this industry."

Geothermal has many advantages. It is a free and infinite energy and heating source, and it's always on. Wind and solar, by comparison, offer a less constant supply of energy. 

This is perking the interest of more companies to invest in geothermal, as is an emerging trend of sourcing energy – and goods – closer to home following the supply-chain disruptions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. 

"There is a need to be less dependent on imports. This should push the diversification of sources," Bianco says.

The challenges

There are a few hurdles for project developers. The first is the exploration risk. Like with oil and natural gas, a well can come up dry or be found to be economically unviable. A successful geothermal well must have high enough temperatures, permeability, and water, a combination that must be sought through exploration. This makes it harder to raise financing for projects than, for say, wind or solar, where there is more certainty of success. Most geothermal developers are smaller companies, from project developers to utilities and municipalities. They tend to have less access to financing than bigger companies,” Bianco recalls. 

Projects are getting underway, nonetheless. In October, Tenaris completed the delivery of casing and accessories to Germany's Deutsche Erdwärme for its Graben-Neudorf project to produce electricity and heat in the Rhine Valley of Germany. 

The initiative involves the establishment of a conventional geothermal doublet designed for the dual purpose of generating electricity and heat. This entails the creation of two wells that penetrate to a depth exceeding 4,000 meters. The initial well was finalized in August 2023, revealing reservoir temperatures surpassing 200 degrees Celsius.

Tenaris is using its knowledge from working in the oil and gas industry as a supplier of steel pipes and services for drilling to help improve the design of geothermal wells and the choice of equipment. For example, the company has developed products that can be used at high temperatures in geothermal wells. 

One challenge for projects is that many geothermal reserves are located under cities or nearby, as well as in environmentally sensitive areas and spots that lack the space for storage. To help companies, Tenaris has honed its own operations in Europe to supply projects with products just in time for their use, giving developers more flexibility in the timing for entering the development stage without maintaining costly storage. At the same time, it supplies equipment for European projects from its two facilities in the area, reducing logistics costs and carbon emissions.

Another solution is Tenaris's Dopeless® technology. Standard pipes are threaded and connected using dope, a blend of lubricating grease and fine metallic particles that is a hazardous waste. The dope-free technology developed by Tenaris helps the environment – as well as health and safety concerns – by removing this hazardous waste from operations.

As more energy companies seek to diversify their portfolios with renewables in the race to net-zero emissions, more projects are expected to take off in geothermal, including by big oil companies – and with clean technologies. "The way that the energy is extracted for geothermal is similar to oil and gas," Bianco says, "We see a growth trend in geothermal."