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Can old volcanoes still heat British cities?

Local authorities across the UK are doing their bit to cut carbon emissions and help future-proof their localities. And few are doing it with the help of a dormant volcano, apart from Stoke-on-Trent.

350 million-year-old volcano two miles below the city’s streets, is heating a layer of rock to over 105 degrees celsius. According to researchers at Keele University, who are behind the subterranean investigations, unstable isotopes left behind by historic volcanic activity are causing the heating effect.

Now, a £52 million investment could tap this resource, in the form of a significant district heating network. It’s hoped that deep geothermal energy will provide 45GWh per year, cutting annual CO2 emissions by around 10,000 tonnes and lowering heating costs locally by at least 10 per cent. The project is part of the council’s ‘City Deal’ which sees ambitious heating provision as the starting point of greater economic growth in the area. The project is chalked in to start in 2016, and be completed by 2019.

Although the volcanic traits below the surface pose no threat to the public these days, Stoke-on-Trent has also recently become the first UK city to be classed as ‘disaster resilient’ by the United Nations.

While other cities with such status around the world are tasked with producing strategies to deal with natural phenomena like earthquakes, in Staffordshire, it was all about more prosaic, but still crucial matters. In fact, it was in part the city’s efforts with tackling energy efficiency among elderly and vulnerable weather that gained it plaudits. Council leader, Mohammed Pervez, says:

“Our resilience action plan enables us to work more effectively across traditional service boundaries to help foster greater resilience in our communities. We want to do more proactive work to minimise the risk posed by factors such as disease, climate change and winter weather."

Perhaps no-one should be surprised at such bold innovation in one of the UK’s historic industrial heartlands. It’s quite possible that generating energy locally and delivering energy efficiency street-to-street could be a catalyst for more prosperous and secure cities around the UK. 

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Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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