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Press Release 156/2010

Urban Heat Islands as Heat Sources

Researchers Study the Geothermal Potential of Aquifers in Large Cities
Wärmepotenzial der Stadt Köln: Grundwassertemperaturen in einer Tiefe von 15 Metern. (Grafik: Zhuh et al.)
Heat potential of the city of Cologne: Groundwater temperatures at a depth of 15 meters. (Graphics: Zhuh et al.)

In large cities, climate change and the heat island effect have not only given rise to an increase in surface temperatures. Temperature of the groundwater has also increased. Within the framework of a project coordinated by KIT, scientists studied the geothermal potential of close-to-surface aquifers in urban areas. The result: Enormous heat sources are located underneath the cities. In Cologne, for instance, the annual consumption for heating all residential buildings could be covered by heat from the groundwater for at least two and a half years.

Narrow roads, densely arranged buildings, factories, and strong road traffic cause the temperatures in large cities to be far above those of the urban hinterland . Together with climate change, this heat island effect has also caused the temperatures below this sur-face of conurbations to increase in the past hundred years. Within the framework of a project coordinated by KIT and ETH Zurich, re-searchers from Germany, Switzerland, and Canada detected signifi-cant increases in groundwater temperatures.

“These warmer aquifers offer sufficient energy to cover a major fraction of the heating consumption of entire cities,” explains Junior Professor Philipp Blum, Head of the Department of Engineering Geology of the KIT Institute of Applied Geosciences. Blum and his colleagues studied the geothermal potential of groundwater in large cities. The results of their studies have now been published in the journal “Environmental Research Letters”.

Measurements of scientists in Cologne and Winnipeg/Canada re-vealed an increase in the groundwater temperatures by up to 5°C compared to the urban hinterland. By geothermal heat pumps, this energy might be used efficiently for heating in winter and cooling in summer. If the water in the about 20 m thick layer in the under-ground would be tapped in Cologne and cooled down by 2 degrees only, annual consumption for heating all residential buildings in the city would be covered by at least two and a half up to a maximum of 20 years, the researchers calculated. In megacities such as Shanghai and Tokyo, the groundwater might even supply heating power for several decades.

Researchers assume that the groundwater temperatures will further increase with increasing urbanization. Use of this geothermal poten-tial would not only contribute to covering the growing needs for energy, but also reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and thus counteract the heating of the cities.

Ke Zhu, Philipp Blum, Grant Ferguson, Klaus-Dieter Balke, and Peter Bayer: The geothermal potential of urban heat islands. Envi-ronmental Research Letters, 5 (2010), 044002 http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/5/4/044002

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is one of Europe’s lead-ing energy research establishments. The KIT Energy Center pools fundamental research with applied research into all relevant energy sources for industry, households, services, and mobility. Holistic assessment of the energy cycle also covers conversion processes and energy efficiency. The KIT Energy Center links competences in engineering and science with know-how in economics, the humanities, and social science as well as law. The activities of the KIT Energy Center are organized in seven topics: Energy conversion, renewable energies, energy storage and distribution, efficient energy use, fusion technology, nuclear power and safety, and energy systems analysis.

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is a public corporation pursuing the tasks of a state university of Baden-Wuerttemberg and of a national research center of the Helmholtz Association. The KIT mission combines the three strategic lines of activity of research, higher education, and innovation. With about 9,400 employees and 24,500 students, KIT is one of the big institutions of research and higher education in natural sciences and engineering in Europe.

or, 22.12.2010
The press release is available as a PDF file.