Interest heating up in Gippsland’s geothermal potential

A new hot springs resort and swimming pool are highlighting the potential of naturally heated water sitting under Gippsland – and a renewed interest in the science behind it.

When picturing hot springs, Victorians usually think of Hepburn Springs or the popular thermal baths on the Mornington Peninsula.

One region unlikely to come to mind is Gippsland, yet the area is emerging as a literal hotspot for the geothermal energy that powers hot springs – something some locals have been discussing the potential of for 50 years.

The Latrobe City Council recently opened the Gippsland Regional Aquatic Centre in Traralgon, the first public aquatic facility in Victoria to incorporate a deep bore geothermal heating system.

The Centre taps into an aquifer more than 600 metres below ground where the water is above 60 degrees Celsius, heating the community pool naturally and cheaply.

Earlier this year saw the announcement of the Metung Hot Springs after funding from the Gippsland Tourism Recovery Package and Local Economic Recovery program was confirmed in the wake of the bushfires.

The first construction stage of a new $100 million hot springs resort is set to kick off soon, and is due to open in summer.

More and more economies around the world are exploring geothermal as a renewable energy source. Gippsland isn’t being left behind, with the Latrobe Valley Authority working with the state’s geoscience agency, the Geological Survey of Victoria (GSV), and the University of Melbourne to carry out geothermal mapping of the region.

“Imagine a hot water tap that comes out of the ground – direct use of geothermal energy is exactly that. But the two main factors prohibiting people from using this energy are knowledge of how deep the water is, and how hot it is,” says GSV Hydrogeologist Cassady O’Neil.

Infographic - Geothermal Energy. The layers of coal underneath Gippsland act as a "blanket", insulating the water below. The water can be utilised in hot springs, pools and greenhouses. Animated arrows pointing up from hot water, coal layer, warm water, coal - natural insulator

The team at GSV have used data from lowering thermometers down 285 ground water bores around the region to create a 3D temperature map of the underlying aquifers, including the promising Latrobe Group aquifer.

The goal of the project is to increase understanding of the groundwater temperatures and map the temperature of Gippsland aquifers to assist in geothermal adoption by communities and industry.

Cassady O’Neil from the Geological Survey of Victoria setting up to collect a geothermal temperature profile from a State Observation Bore.“There are established geothermal projects in Werribee and the Mornington Peninsula, and the Gippsland Basin is also looking promising. The temperature can be as high as 90 degrees – perfect for direct use of the water,” says Cassady.

University of Melbourne Senior Fellow in Crustal Heat Flow, Dr Graeme Beardsmore, says it is coal that makes the area a prime location for harnessing geothermal power.

“Heat flowing from the centre of the earth warms the water underground. The 300 metres of coal close below the surface of Gippsland acts as a thick blanket of thermal insulation that keeps the water underneath much hotter than in other locations,” he says.

Around the world, businesses are using geothermal energy more and more in aquaculture, greenhouse food production, spa resorts, and pools.

GSV believe the 8085 km2 geothermal map to be released later this year will provide more local organisations with confidence to utilise geothermal resources.