SCOTLAND’S north-east could become a world leader in environmentally-friendly heating thanks to its abundance of granite.
The igneous rock has historically been widely used across the region for building everything from bridges to mansions.
And now, the hot water which naturally flows through the rock deep underground could be used to provide heat for an entire town.
The Hill of Banchory Geothermal Energy Project will see surveys undertaken at three locations in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, by Aberdeen University and the University of Glasgow.
A team of geologists plan to identify hotspots where groundwater is naturally heated by the granite which could be extracted using a drill rig and pumped to local homes.
And, if the research proves successful, the heat could be harnessed through a distribution network across the entire area.
A positive result could also help the launch of similar projects across the wider region and turn the north-east into a geothermal goldmine.
The project is a joint venture between Jigsaw Energy, Hobesco Cluff Geothermal Ltd, the British Geological Survey, the universities, Town Rock Energy, and Ramboll.
Director of Banchory-based Jigsaw, George Wood, said “colossal amounts of naturally occurring heat” could be located beneath the area surrounding the town.
He said: “The project is about extracting hot water under the ground heated by granite, which is slightly radioactive, it gives off heat and absorbs heat from the earth’s core.
“Basically, you put the water back in the same place. You use the heat, the water goes back again and then replenishes itself.
“We have chosen a number of sites where we can do the tests. We’ll build a map from that and find the most prominent site.
“The whole purpose of the project is to connect the energy source to Banchory. If it is successful, we could get the wider area connected.
“In the long term, it certainly seems a good way of providing heat, obviously at no cost to the environment.
“Once it is up and running the costs are very low.”
Phase one of the work has been made possible by a £50,000 grant from the Scottish Government’s geothermal energy challenge fund.
Scottish energy minister, Fergus Ewing said the project had the potential to bring affordable, low-carbon heat to households in the region.
He said: “This is part of the wider approach to support the development of a resilient heat system that enables households, organisations and industry to transition to an affordable low carbon heat system and seize the economic opportunities that this transformation offers.”
UK operations manager for Cluff Geothermal Ltd, Michael Feliks, said phase one was a “feasibility study” for the project.
He said: “When you talk about energy we often just talk about electricity. This is a very good project, a very strong project.
“You have the heat from the granite very close to a developed heat network which could be expanded in the future.
“It has got a very small carbon footprint. We need a good project to get up and running to show people how well it can work. This might be it.”