Exploring new energy horizons

Published on 21 November 2023

SPIE supports its customers on all fronts of the energy transition, from the most innovative to the most advanced, in areas including the development of renewable energies, energy efficiency in buildings, electromobility, agrivoltaics, thermal recycling of waste, and aquathermy.

Using geothermal energy to heat our schools drives the energy transition while significantly cutting costs.”
XAVIER PUJOS, Environmental and Sustainable Performance Project Officer, Nouvelle-Aquitaine Regional Authority

For the past ten years or so, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine regional authority has been investing heavily to heat secondary schools with more sustainable energies – especially geothermal energy.

In February 2022, the Lycée des Métiers Condorcet in Arcachon was the ninth school to switch from gas to geothermal energy. In practical terms, this means that the school is now connected to the network of a neighbouring industrial site whose activity involves extracting a considerable amount of hot water from deep underground. An exchanger then steps in to recover the heat from the water and inject it into our boiler. SPIE installed the new system from A to Z, and is now in charge of its operation and maintenance. This was a natural choice, as the Group’s long standing partnership with the regional authority has already given it experience in 30 secondary schools. And we in turn have gained a very good understanding of SPIE’s expertise, particularly its most decisive skills in the field of geothermal energy, such as HVAC engineering, electricity and control. 

It is important to bear in mind that geothermal energy is free – other than the cost associated with recovering it. For schools like Condorcet in Arcachon, where heating accounts for 60% to 65% of the energy bill, that means it is very financially advantageous. More importantly, it has reduced the school’s annual CO2 emissions from approximately 230 tonnes to just 12 tonnes today! This is a powerful driver for meeting our commitment to dividing emissions from the region’s high schools by at least four – and hopefully by as much as six or seven – by 2050. Nouvelle-Aquitaine is fortunate in that more than 80% of its secondary schools are located in the immediate vicinity of geothermal sources. We aim to take full advantage of this and to equip all the schools concerned in the coming years.

The connection of Jean Condorcet High School to the geothermal network in Bordeaux.

SPIE carried out all the installations of the new system and is responsible for its operation and maintenance.

Accelerating energy transition with geothermal energy.

Geothermal energy drawn from deep within the Earth can help transform the building sector. This unlimited source of heat is completely carbon free.

Geothermal energy offers the advantage of being free, and can require very little in terms of electricity. This translates into extremely low heating costs and a very positive carbon footprint, for example.

In recent years, SPIE has developed extensive expertise in geothermal energy. As part of its long-standing partnership with the French region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, where it provides energy solutions for 30 high schools, SPIE is leading a unique project.

We are working to bring geothermal energy, which used to run on gas boilers but is now connected to a network provided by a nearby industrial operator. This network supplies water heated to 63°C. The water comes through here in this pipe and goes up here. This three-way valve lets us choose between gas or geothermal energy, which is obviously prioritised.

Water will be taken from a groundwater source, like a well, and pumped through pipes. This water will be fed back into the system using an exchanger. We collect the energy that is transferred, and reinject it back into our boiler plant.

SPIE now operates and maintains geothermal energy facilities in addition to building them.

SPIE has acquired energy capability needed for geothermal energy systems. Our expertise covers climate and electrical engineering, as well as control systems. All of these heating systems are controlled remotely. We can step in immediately if something does not look right and re-calibrate the systems to provide the right service.

Nouvelle-Aquitaine wants to cut emissions from its high schools to at least a quarter of current levels by 2050. Lycée Condorcet, a school where 90% of heating needs are met by geothermal energy, is smashing this ambitious target.

We are seeing a six to seven fold reduction in energy consumption from previous levels. Annual CO2 emissions went from around 230 tonnes to 12. As a result, costs have dropped from €300,000 to €56,000.

This geothermal energy system releases 17 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. This is exceptional. The Region aims to install the system in every high school with an access to geothermal energy.

Harnessing geothermal energy to accelerate the energy transition is in step with the joint commitments of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and SPIE to effectively tackle global warming.