Edinburgh start-up offers a solution to energy crisis

Published: 17 March 2015

Town Rock Energy is being supported in its early stages through the Edinburgh’s Interspace network of business incubators.

The Edinburgh-based start-up hopes to help establish a new industry in Scotland to address the issue that 55% of the nation’s energy demand is for heat. Currently most of this heat comes from fossil fuels, and yet geothermal energy is abundant and clean.

Town Rock Energy is one of the founding members of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation’s Low Carbon Ideas Lab – Edinburgh’s only low carbon focused business incubator.

“Geothermal energy uses the same skillsets and the same technology as the oil and gas industry, so it would make absolute sense for oil and gas companies to be exploring for geothermal energy – but they’re not,” says Town Rock Energy founder and managing director David Townsend.

The 24-year-old geology graduate from the University of St Andrews has set up the company with his father Phil, who has experience in exploration geology and North Sea oil field management. David believes Scotland’s natural geothermal resource addresses the energy ‘trilemma’ – the search for affordable, low-carbon energy that doesn’t rely on imported fuel.

He has now been asked to prepare a paper on the difference between geothermal and fracking for the Scottish Renewables Conference in Edinburgh on 24 and 25 March (2015).

“Our vision is to see the geothermal resources that Scotland is blessed with used as an integral part of the future energy mix, positioning Scotland as a global leader in carbon neutrality,” David explains. “We’re establishing a whole new industry that doesn’t exist in Scotland. The legislative and planning permission framework needs to be adapted effectively. So there are huge obstacles to overcome. But once the first couple of projects are established and successfully heating customers, I think we’ll start to see these systems rolled out all over the country.”

A Scottish Government report in 2013 indicated that a third of Scotland’s entire heating needs could be provided from the heat within these water-filled disused mines, which number in the hundreds. The extraction process involves drilling wells to bring the water to the surface. Heat is taken from this water and distributed to local communities through a heat station and network of pipes known as a district heating scheme.

“The timing of what we’re trying to do with Town Rock Energy is impeccable for a number of reasons,” David adds. “The low oil price creates more skilled people looking for jobs in the sector and reduces the cost of drilling, which in turn reduces the cost of exploring for geothermal energy. The UK government has also named this the ‘decade of renewable heat’, with incentives on offer to install and expand district heating schemes, so we want to harness this momentum to develop geothermal in Scotland.”

David sits on the Scottish Government’s Geothermal Energy Expert Group and is based at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) Low Carbon Ideas Lab – an incubation space offering support, mentoring and world class accommodation for inspirational ideas that accelerate Scotland’s progress towards a low carbon economy.

ECCI’s Low Carbon Ideas Lab is one of 15 Edinburgh-based incubators involved in Interspace, which aims to promote collaboration and co-operation between the city’s business incubators and support providers. Incubators – facilities that combine office space with business support services such as funding, staffing and legal advice – play a crucial early role in nurturing innovative businesses.

Significant success stories ‘hatched’ in Edinburgh include FanDuel, the fantasy sports league provider which has raised around £60m investment since it was set up in 2009, and online identity verification service miiCard, which has been expanding in the US since securing £1.6m of second round venture capital funding in 2012.

“Edinburgh has a fantastic track record in growing successful technology businesses, but challenges remain,” says Jim Galloway, Head of Enterprise and Innovation at City of Edinburgh Council, which helped establish Interspace with Edinburgh College, ECCI and the European Regional Development Fund. “Surveys suggest that lack of premises impedes growth for more than a fifth of small businesses, while lending conditions remain challenging. We want to help resolve some of these issues by improving co-ordination between business support and incubation services, including better information on access to finance and investor readiness.”

Town Rock Energy will be pitching for funding to grow its team and design a number of conceptual systems at two upcoming investor showcases – Engage Invest Exploit in Edinburgh this May and the Cleantech Innovate event in Glasgow this June. 

For more information:

Contact: Sally Masterson
E: sally@mastersonmedia.co.uk
T: 01875 615007
M: 078 998 12254

Or David Townsend
E: david@townrockenergy.com
M: 07841 910719 


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