National ICT Australia (NICTA) has been chosen to head up a two-year $5 million project that will see big data analytics used to locate geothermal energy sources beneath the earth's surface.
Geothermal energy is an abundant, renewable energy source found in hot rocks that are several kilometres underground. The heat conducts to shallower rocks near the surface, where it can be extracted by circulating water through the rocks. The heated water can then be converted to electricity when it reaches the surface.
Geoscience Australia, the national centre for geoscience research, has estimated that 1 per cent of Australia's geothermal energy could supply the country's annual requirements for 26,000 years. However, locating sources of it can be costly.
This is why the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy has set up the project — to fund a team of university specialists from four states to develop automated ways of finding energy sources, using analytics and machine learning techniques instead of drills. The team will be headed by NICTA.
"Australia has a wealth of geothermal energy resources, but they are difficult to locate and access," NICTA CEO Hugh Durrant-Whyte said in a statement. "We will apply NICTA's considerable expertise in machine learning and big data analytics to create software to address these challenges."
The other universities involved include the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne and the University of Adelaide. Also to take part are geothermal exploration firms GeoDynanics and Petratherm, as well as GeoScience Australia and the South Australian Department of Manufacturing, Innovation Trade Resources and Energy, which will provide geothermal sensor data sets and expertise.
The project is the first one to receive funding from the Australian Government's $126 million Emerging Renewables Program.