Cornwall, in southwest England, is famed for its rolling countryside, stunning coastline and cream teas. Now, thanks to a number of recent developments and projects, the county is starting to gain recognition in another field: Geothermal energy.
In the latest example of how this resource is being harnessed, an outdoor swimming facility in the town of Penzance officially opened a geothermal pool at the end of August.
An open air site that allows swimmers to bathe in sea water, the Jubilee Pool is triangular in shape and has been used since 1935.
It is subdivided into three sections: a learners' pool, a large main pool and the new geothermal pool, which opened to members of the public on September 1. The site is also known as a "lido", a term Brits use to refer to outdoor swimming pools open to the public.
Described by the U.S. Department of Energy as a "vital, clean energy resource," geothermal energy refers to underground heat which can be used to produce renewable energy. The DOE adds that geothermal energy "supplies renewable power around the clock and emits little or no greenhouse gases."
The process for warming the pool in Penzance is multi-layered. According to the team behind the project, warm water from a 410-meter geothermal well near the site is extracted, with heat pumps harnessing that warmth and then funneling it to the pool using a device called a heat exchanger. Cooler water is then sent back, or re-injected, underground.
Nicola Murdoch, who is interim chief operations officer at Jubilee Pool, said in a statement issued at the end of last week that the opening of the geothermal pool signaled the completion of a £1.8 million ($2.4 million) upgrade to facilities at the site.
According to the organization, almost £540,000 of funding came from a public share offering which resulted in 1,400 shareholders – 970 of them from the local area – making an investment. The geothermal pool has been designed to be used by 50 swimmers at a time, but due to the coronavirus pandemic this has been reduced to 15 for the moment.
"We are incredibly proud to be the first in the U.K. to have a pool of this kind and are delighted to be able to provide such a unique resource to our community," Murdoch added.
The well was built by Geothermal Engineering Limited, with the European Regional Development Fund also providing financial support in the form of a grant.
Ryan Law, who is managing director of Geothermal Engineering Limited, said that the system the company had drilled and installed was "part of the growing movement to use sustainable heating sources across the U.K."
Cornwall is now home to a number of geothermal projects. Back in 2018, drilling started for the U.K.'s "first geothermal power plant", at the United Downs Industrial Estate near Redruth.
According to Geothermal Engineering Limited, this power plant will be commissioned next year.
The company is also involved in a project with another firm, called Cornish Lithium, that is looking to "recover lithium from geothermal waters" at the United Downs site.
Cornwall's geothermal outdoor pool may be something of a novelty to people in the U.K., but these kind of developments are not new: Geothermal pools are commonplace in countries such as Iceland.
And while the team behind the development in Penzance claim that it's the U.K.'s "first geothermal lido," it isn't the country's first geothermal bath. That honor, they say, belongs to the city of Bath, in Somerset, where "the Romans beat us to it by 2,000 years."