20 years ago, the International Energy Agency put out a warning. It said that the world needed an excess of C$20 trillion of investment in energy supply to meet growing demand. It will likely surprise nobody that this investment has not come, and consequently, we face an energy supply crisis.

What’s more remarkable is that the call was for investment in any source of energy, not just environmentally sound ones. Investors reading this might be amused by my apparent naivety in thinking that such sums could be provided to fund clean energy production. That’s even in light of two or more decades of increased understanding about the impact of climate change and the urgency for the energy sector to reduce its CO2 footprint.

After all, BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment management companies, has been accused of “boycotting” energy companies—an accusation it has felt necessary to publicly rebut. But I often hear about investors reluctant to invest in the energy sector despite BlackRock’s stated Sustainable Development Goals calling for an increase in renewable energy investment by the end of this decade.

CANADA’S RENEWABLE ENERGY INVESTMENT PROBLEM

What are those reluctant investors concerned about? Are they concerned that the road to profitability is unclear, that it’s hard to make a profit due to the high upfront costs, that there are still relatively high interest rates for renewables, and that there are technological issues with storing energy? Or is it that renewables, although sexy… perhaps above all, are just too risky? Nobody wants to be first. And so on…

At a recent Sustainable Development Technology Canada Leadership Forum, it was suggested that it’s impossible to fund a first-of-its-kind green commercial project, and there was general agreement on this premise. I’ve certainly had enough people telling me that what Eavor is doing is impossible (despite us having done it at Geretsried in Germany).

Almost inevitably, they said that drilling a giant radiator in the deep subsurface is impossible, and then when we did that at Eavor-Lite™ (see below), they said that a closed-loop system, tapping heat directly from the surrounding rock via conduction, would obviously never work. When you put it that way, it does sound like an immense challenge. Maybe it’s just too expensive, but people said such things to Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Philo Farnsworth, and Bill Gates about the light bulb, the telephone, the TV, the PC, and so on.

AND YET, HERE WE ARE

There’s a saying that the exception proves the rule. We at Eavor prefer to think that the exception breaks the rule. Eavor certainly has been repeatedly successful in raising investment despite proposing a new form of clean technology.

Last year, we raised over C$100m from investors for our geothermal energy tech, including Temasek, Vickers Venture Partners, and the venture arms of oil majors BP and Chevron. This year, we completed the first close of our C$182 million Series B equity round with a C$50 million investment by OMV, with the participation of Microsoft (the first-ever equity investment by a tech giant in geothermal) and the Canada Growth Fund (their first-ever investment of any kind). All this during a difficult time in venture investment fundraising. We were also given a C$134 million grant from the European Union’s Innovation Fund for low-carbon technologies. That’s the largest grant it has ever given to a company outside the EU.

Let’s at least agree that there are, in fact, bold investors for green energy projects out there who can recognize the potential of innovation well ahead of its conclusive viability. They can recognize the potential if the green energy project is right.

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY: FROM SWORDS TO PLOUGHSHARES

Eavor has taken established oil and gas technology designed to extract fossil fuels and repurposed it for heat extraction, in effect beating swords into ploughshares. This heat makes for a clean and never-ending energy source. It is from the Earth’s natural heat, left over from the planet’s formation and the natural decay of radioactive minerals. It is worth noting that the core of the Earth is about the same temperature as the sun’s surface, and it is much closer.

The science that underpins the repurposed tools we use is already proven (and we’ve also pioneered some proprietary tools of our own). The tools’ target—the heat we can extract from the Earth by conduction—is easy to find and is always there, right under our feet. We are not looking for the special conditions generally required by traditional geothermal projects, like a steam reservoir, fractures, and permeability. The risk of failure is significantly reduced. These risk-reduction mechanisms are notions that investors can get behind.

It helps that our method of extracting geothermal energy has convinced the oil and gas extraction industry’s top people to come on board, too. We haven’t built up to hiring the best—we started with the best, which gives us an adaptable expertise base. In many ways, these people have been our secret weapon in our remodelling of geothermal energy.

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IS THE HOLY GRAIL OF ENERGY SOURCES

Eavor-Loop™ appeals to investors because it doesn’t share the obstacles that wind and solar face, despite them both typically being trumpeted as the future of renewable energy. The wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine. Their power output changes unpredictably. They are relatively cheap, but they are not baseload forms of energy. Adding energy storage to make them baseload also makes them expensive and dependent on a globe-girding supply chain at risk of disruption and price fluctuations.

With an Eavor-Loop™, in contrast, the power transmitted from the source equals the power delivered and can be varied as needed. It’s always there, yet it can be ramped up or down as demand dictates. The plant can be placed anywhere (heat is everywhere under our feet) and with a minimal surface footprint. An Eavor-Loop™ can be built with domestically supplied materials and workforce in almost any place to meet customer demand and protect that customer supply from the vagaries of a remote energy supply subject to disruption due to weather, war, and/or politics.

This means that there is a potentially enormous opportunity for municipalities, military bases, and companies to have scalable energy autonomy. Climate policy aside, given the current state of world geopolitical tensions, it’s obvious how important that may be in the future.

Another factor operating in Eavor’s favour is that we know the output before drilling because the system is so simple and predictable (i.e., extraction by conduction without dependencies on other highly variable geological phenomena). That’s why we’re winning investors. That’s why I think scaleable clean baseload technology like Eavor’s is our best shot for eventually replacing hydrocarbons. As we scale our technology, Eavor moves down the learning curve, stimulating a virtuous cycle of ever-lowering unit costs, leading to ever-larger deployments, leading to further unit cost reductions, etc.

These characteristics are attractive to anyone putting their money into such a venture, be they a private or a governmental agency. Eavor-Loops™ have the same appealing simplicity and directness of wind or solar—extracting heat from rocks below ground is an easy concept to grasp—but also offers an appealing lack of surprises over the long term. That matters when financing multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects over many years.

There’s nothing more convincing to an investor than getting beyond a hypothesis that may be intriguing but is, nonetheless, just a hypothesis. A proof of concept—or, as we like to call it, a market witness—makes a huge difference. So, while contracts send the right signal, such as the one we signed this past spring with Sonoma Clean Power for the development of geothermal resources in northern California, actually breaking ground shows how far others are already committed (as we have done in Geretsried in Germany this summer).

THE MARKET WITNESS FOR GEOTHERMAL ENERGY

We had our successful field-scale proof-of-concept project in Alberta (“Eavor-Lite™”) in December 2019. That brought in our first wave of investment. What followed was even more disruptive: our “Eavor-Deep™” test project in New Mexico. Completed at the end of 2022, it’s the deepest directional geothermal well in history, drilling 18,000 feet through hard igneous rock. It’s the hottest too at 250ºC. It brought our next wave of investment.

Each of these projects demonstrated how the cost and risk of the Eavor-Loop™ solution could be reduced, consistent with moving down the learning curve. As the early strategic investors in wind, solar, and shale gas already understand, the goal is not to achieve perfection from the outset but rather to achieve it through persistent iteration.

Not all investors get this. That is, perhaps, the root challenge of funding any new idea, not just those in the green energy space. And that’s fine. Investors are putting their money on the line, after all. We think that Eavor has built relationships with the more progressive sort of investor, enough to finance the projects that are keeping us busy now, which we expect to bring further investment in turn.

In Geretsried, Germany, we’ve started to build the first commercial Eavor-Loop™. There are currently two drilling rigs on site, drilling holes simultaneously. Each Eavor-Loop™ system is constructed by drilling two vertical wells down to a depth of 4,500 meters. We then turn the wells horizontally, splitting each well into 12 parallel lateral wells and drilling each for a further 2,500 meters. We then connect the laterals from the first well to the laterals of the second to create a closed-loop system.

Eavor’s heat-to-power facility will transform energy extracted from the Earth into electricity for local energy distribution. The proof of the pudding is in the heating, as it were, but we fully expect it to be a success. Maybe that will convince those naysayers who say it’s impossible to fund a large-scale novel green commercial project to change their minds.

Source:https://thefutureeconomy.ca/