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DEEP Earth Energy builds Canada’s first geothermal plant

Kirsten Marcia, president and CEO of DEEP Earth Energy. is leading the company to build Canada's first geothermal power plant in Saskatchewan. (Courtesy DEEP Earth Energy)

DEEP Earth Energy is borrowing techniques and knowledge from the oil and gas sector to build Canada’s first commercial geothermal plant in southeast Saskatchewan – and replace coal-based electricity with a clean energy source.

Founded in 2010 in Saskatoon, DEEP Earth Energy is led by president and CEO Kirsten Marcia, a geologist with over 20 years of experience in the commodities exploration industry.

From its founding to today, DEEP Earth Energy completed pre-feasibility studies, raised equity and funding, set a Saskatchewan record when it drilled its first well in 2018 to 3,530 metres, and has drilled six wells total.

The geothermal power developer also powered through other challenges inherent to the field, such as being time intensive and costly to drill.

Now, the company is pushing forward with construction.

Building Canada’s first geothermal plant

Located in the “heart of oil and gas country” in southeast Saskatchewan, the plan for the geothermal power plant benefited from commercial drilling data that is made public after two years. This aided DEEP's search for a hot aquifer.

The facility will be built in two phases using 10 per cent of the 97,775-acre parcel of leased land where DEEP Earth Energy has geothermal rights. The first phase will provide five megawatts of capacity. The second phase, which is not yet fully financed, will add an additional 20 megawatts.

DEEP Earth Energy anticipates it can accommodate over 200 megawatts via multiple power facilities across its leased land.

Marcia said the facility is unique for its use of a horizontal oil and gas drilling technique and a "ribcage" layout. Production and injection wells are expected to be drilled to depths of approximately 3.5 kilometres, and three kilometres horizontally.

The technique will be applied for the first time in a renewable energy project and could become an example for other renewable projects, according to DEEP Earth Energy.

Geothermal brine in a sandstone aquifer that reaches temperatures of 120 C, on average, is pumped to the surface using Organic Rankine cycle technology.

At the surface, DEEP Earth Energy can mine the heat through a heat exchanger that vaporizes a working fluid (such as butane) into steam, which generates power by driving a turbine. The brine is returned underground to be re-heated as a renewable clean energy source.

The company initially struggled to gain financing, but signed its first power purchase agreement (PPA) with SaskPower in 2017 and received $25.6 million in funding in January 2019 through Natural Resources Canada. This brought down investor risk tolerance to a level where DEEP could attract equity to advance the project.

DEEP Earth Energy expects the plant to be fully built in 2024. The first revenue is expected in two years, Marcia said.

In the geothermal industry, a facility is built to match the lifespan of the PPA, which in DEEP Earth Energy’s case is 25 years. But Marcia said it will “run much longer than that.”

Helping to phase out coal

Marcia said the completed 25-megawatt facility is equivalent to powering 25,000 households. Each 20-megawatt facility offsets around 43,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year, she added.

Geothermal energy could phase out coal generation in Saskatchewan, replacing the fossil fuel with an emissions-free source that will run 24/7.

“It’s a challenge developing anything for the first time in Canada, and with that comes a lot of innovation," Marcia explained. "It’s been a very exciting project.

"It’s full of interest, lots of twists and turns. It certainly hasn’t been a linear path.”

There are also plans to explore areas for carbon dioxide storage within the company’s subsurface lease that contains zones with rock layers which are believed to be suitable for that process. Marcia said it remains "initial exploratory work at this time.”

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