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Subsurface potential for the energy transition

The partner interview

François Bayrou High Commissioner for Planning

Portrait et citation
François Bayrou High Commissioner for Planning
BRGM’s role was fundamental in the geothermal action plan, since our initial intuition had to be verified by a respected scientific institution. BRGM was able to confirm that our reasoning was correct.
We are pursuing this huge challenge together.

Creating a field of 13 geothermal wells, each one 100 m deep, on BRGM’s Geothermal platform. © BRGM / Ademe - D. Depoorter

Why is geothermal energy making a comeback after having been sidelined for so long?

François Bayrou —  In 2021, the Haut Commissariat au Plan published a study on energy. It’s my belief that this study helped to change mindsets, since it showed that if we wanted renewable energy, given that all or almost all renewable energy until now has been intermittent, we needed to supplement supplies with what is known as controllable energy, and the only controllable energy with no greenhouse gas emissions is nuclear energy.

This study sparked a great deal of discussion at the time. It helped to tip the balance of power, since public opinion became overwhelmingly pro-nuclear in the space of just a few months. We could say much the same of geothermal energy, although the situation is much simpler: we are trying to save energy by any means possible (heating and air conditioning currently account for about 50% of consumption) and we have an inexhaustible store of free energy right under our feet, a store of energy that could solve heating and cooling problems across 95% of France, saving 80% of the electricity needed to achieve the same result for heating, and far more for cooling or air conditioning. At the same time, as a decentralised energy source, it contributes to our independence in this area. But this potential has been ignored. More than the fault of energy operators, it is the result of a general inertia that can be explained primarily by the fact that polluting energies were cheap for so long.

Ultimately, not many people believed in geothermal energy, even though we had all the technologies. As part of the input sought for the “key challenges of the future”, we therefore launched an ambitious action plan for the development of near-surface geothermal energy on 13 October 2022, in the presence of BRGM. This report also moved things along, helped by the favourable context and the understanding with BRGM. 

What conditions are necessary to successfully carry out this plan?

Fr.B. — Like Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the Minister for Energy Transition, with whom I presented our geothermal action plan on 2 February, I believe that the development of geothermal energy could make a substantial contribution to strategic energy sovereignty, helping us to achieve carbon neutrality and move away from fossil fuels. However, there are two conditions: we need to rebuild an organisation to train drilling engineers, and we have to put in place a system to spread financing over 25 or 30 years for domestic users, owing to the cost of installation.

What role did BRGM play then?

Fr.B. — BRGM’s role was fundamental in the geothermal action plan, since our initial intuition had to be verified by a respected scientific institution. BRGM was able to confirm that our reasoning was correct. Together we are meeting this huge challenge.