IRENA anomaly maps
IRENA anomaly maps
Global Bouguer and Free Air Gravity Anomaly Maps allow project developers to prospect for geothermal potential around the world. Pic credit: IRENA

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have launched a free online tool to help project developers explore the potential of geothermal sites around the world.

According to IRENA, the new technique uses Global Bouguer and Free Air Gravity Anomaly Maps, which enable users to gauge geothermal potential at minimum risk and reduced cost.

Henning Wuester, director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre, said: “These maps can help make a strong business case for geothermal development where none existed before.”

“In doing so, the tool provides a short-cut for lengthy and costly explorations and unlocks the potential of geothermal energy as a reliable and clean contribution to the world’s energy mix", Wuester added.

Gravity anomaly maps

IRENA explains that the gravity anomaly maps use ESA satellite gravity measurements to identify specific characteristics unique to geothermal reservoirs, including areas with thin crusts, subduction zones, and young magmatic activity.

This is an advantage as it will help determine which areas are most likely to possess geothermal potential, narrowing the search for users.

Volker Liebig, director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes, added: “This is the first time that ESA’s global gravity data from the 'Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer' satellite has been used as a tool for geothermal energy site exploration.”

“ESA will continue its collaboration with IRENA to further improve space-based gravity data as a resource for sustainable energy development", Liebig continued.

Publicising the anomaly maps

IRENA claims: “The publication of these maps is a first step towards developing a comprehensive geothermal prospecting technique. Future iterations could be produced at finer scales, integrating the satellite data locally with terrestrial data to further improve the quality of results.”

The most recent and up to date geothermal maps are included in the Global Atlas portal “the most comprehensive repository of global renewable energy resource potential maps.”

The Atlas combines 1,000 maps from 67 governments and 50 data centres to provide access to the necessary datasets, expertise and financial support to help countries evaluate their national renewable energy potentials. Currently, 67 countries and more than 50 institutes and partners contribute to the initiative, IRENA said in their statement.