People profile

Sir Tim Smit

Co-founder, Eden Project

Sir Tim Smit is well known for his commitment to green living.

Co-founder of the world-famous Eden Project in Cornwall, UK, the Dutch-born British businessman founded the £80m (US$103.5m) attraction, which promotes biodiversity and sustainability with its indoor rainforest, housed inside two giant biomes.

After gaining EU funding, he’s taking that commitment one step further, with plans to not only transform the Eden Project by building a geothermal energy plant, but also for the attraction to act as a sustainability blueprint for the entire planet.

“We’ve been waiting 10 years to be able to say it’s full steam ahead for the Eden Project’s energy scheme,” says Smit. “We’ve always known that beneath our feet – at the centre of the earth – it’s hot.”

Green ambitions
Described by Smit as the biggest leap forward for Eden since it opened in 2001, the project will eventually provide clean and renewable energy to power the entire Eden Project site, as well as local businesses and the wider community.

The plan will see a narrow 25cm well drilled 4.5km (2.8mi) down through the Earth’s surface to investigate temperature and permeability. Once functioning, cold water will be pumped underground, where it will pick up heat from the rocks before being pumped back to the surface at a temperature of around 180°C, running through a turbine to generate electricity, creating a completely sustainable energy source for the attraction.

“Every schoolchild knows that the middle of the world is a molten lump,” says Smit. “The heat is only just below us.

What we’re going to do is start drilling in Q2 2020 and we hope that within 18 months, Eden will be completely carbon neutral and we’ll be powering everything around us from renewable sources.”

Eden has teamed with EGS Energy for the potentially world-changing plan, after securing £16.8m (US$21.8m) in funding from a mix of private and public sources, including £9.9m (US$12.8m) from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), £1.4m (US$1.8m) from Cornwall Council and £5.5m (US$7.1m) from institutional investors.

“This is a gamechanger of the biggest kind,” says Smit. “All over the world, you see protests over the fact that we are not mediating our carbon use.

“Some argue that wind and solar energy aren’t enough because the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine at night, but deep geothermal power gives you heat 24/7 and can level out the period when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. For the first time, a jigsaw of completely deliverable renewable energy is available for the world to enable us to go completely carbon-neutral.”

Powering Cornwall
Once drilled, the first well will supply a district heating system for Eden’s biomes, offices and greenhouses. It will pave the way for the second phase – another 4.5km well and an electricity plant. Completing the second phase will mean that Eden will be generating sufficient renewable energy to become carbon positive by 2023 as well as aiming to be able to provide heat and power for the local area – 7,000 homes. Smit says the plans represent the chance to “spark an energy revolution”.

“We have the green light and the funding to start drilling and we’re determined to make this technology work,” says Smit. “We want to work with others all over the world – sharing knowledge and encouraging the change as fast as is humanly possible.”

To deliver the plan, a new company, Eden Geothermal Limited (EGL) has been formed. This company is made up of the Eden Project, geothermal development group EGS Energy, and geothermal developer and drilling advisor BESTEC UK.

“Once up and running, our plant will provide more than enough renewable electricity and heat for the whole site, as well as for the local area,” says Smit. “We’ll be drilling for good energy rather than bad.

“It’s so exciting for us that the mining tradition of Cornwall is being put to use to create a renewable future.”

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