In 2016, a unique eco-tourist complex will open near Paris, the first of its kind in Europe. Under the aegis of the Pierre & Vacances-Center Parcs and Euro Disney SCA, Nature Villages boasts a heating network powered by geothermal heat to cover all its energy needs. Here, Laurent Tosello, the executive director of the project, explains the ideas behind the concept.
Can you describe Nature Villages?
Nature Villages is a new eco-tourist destination designed for short and medium term stays, on a European scale. It is located in Marne-la-Vallée, 32 km from Paris and near Disneyland® Paris. The site is set to include around a thousand living accommodations upon opening in 2016 (divided into individual and collective accommodation) and a set of recreational facilities. The icon of the site is an aquatic centre, dubbed Aqualagoon, which covers an area of more than 1 ha and whose water will be heated to over 30 ° C all year round. Nature Villages will also offer an educational farm and a series of routes through different landscapes. In the initial phase of operation, the site will be spread out over 259 ha.
How did you build this ecotourism concept?
We had three principles: energy efficiency, a positive carbon balance and renewable energy (RE). From there, we developed a sustainable action plan with the support of NGO, WWF and One Planet Living, which has also allowed us to be registered in the United Nations program in 2013 as a destination which participates in sustainable development.
Regarding the use of renewable energy, was geothermal energy an automatic choice?
First of all, we conducted studies and analysed the different solutions. Nature Villages is not located near a large production facility which uses renewable energy. However, the genius of the place is that at 2000 metres underground, there is what is called the Dogger, a geothermal aquifer which is particularly exploited in Île-de-France. Since there was no other source either directly accessible or at a reasonable cost, we quickly turned to the geothermal solution. In addition, this echoed the size of the lake that is to be created on the site, notably via Aqualagoon. Studies carried out with Cofely Networks have proven the feasibility of drilling, tapping water at 76 ° C at a rate sufficient to cover the needs of the site in terms of heating, hot water and bathing water.
How is the drilling proceeding?
The drilling of the production well was completed in late July and we started drilling on the injection well which should be finalized in October. It is important to note that we do not take water from the Dogger but only its heat through heat exchangers that are in contact with the distribution networks. Both wells form a closed circuit loop. On the surface, they are ten metres from each other, but below ground, from 200 m onwards, we slant the drilling so as to have 2 km between the point of capture and the point of injection.
How important is the heating network?
On the Nature Villages site, it will be an 18 km network in the opening phase, with an installation of 13.5 MW. But the network does not stop at Nature Villages, it extends over 8 km to the north, up to Disneyland® Paris, across a space called the sector IV of Marne-la-Vallée. In doing so, this network will not only help to “green” the consumption of the Disney parks by 40%, but it will also facilitate the energy transition of any territory that includes several high-growth areas.
How does your geothermal solution fit in an energy mix?
Geothermal energy is already allowing us to save 9000 tons CO2 eq per year, covering all our heating needs, but we are also working on other projects, including biomass. There are in fact a number of waste collectors on this very farm land. We want to extend this collection and develop a biogas unit which will allow us to cover our electricity needs. In the same way as the heat network, this project will serve the entire territory and promote its energy transition.
Furthermore, to reduce our carbon footprint during the construction phase, we favoured, as much as possible, the use of local businesses, limiting greenhouse gas emissions due to transport. It is this same desire that will guide us during operation, to a large extent on local agricultural production.
Finally, in terms of energy efficiency, and even though we were not required to do so at the time, we filed our planning permission, we designed our buildings and equipment in accordance with the 2012 thermal regulations (RT 2012).
What is the cost of your heating system?
The investment is € 41 million, with a matching contribution from the ADEME heat fund of about € 9.5 million. Compared to other REC, the cost of geothermal energy also has the advantage, since there was a price incentive at the time of investment, of balancing out in the operating phase. We have created a dedicated structure for the design and network operations, including Cofely, the supplier, as a shareholder alongside other financial contributors.
Is a concept like Nature Villages transposable elsewhere?
Covering such a site through geothermal energy is a first in Europe. Nature Villages would not have been possible if we had not found the solution, if we had not been as economical as possible in terms of carbon emissions. Everything in the concept takes its principle from one single, innovative idea: an ecotourism destination. To answer your question, we do not expect to construct another Nature Villages in France or in a neighbouring country, as we do not want to overexpose the product. Elsewhere in Canada or Asia, it might be possible. However we will only do that in total cohesion with the genius of the place, respecting the existing location and the same principles that have guided us here. So it will not necessarily involve geothermal energy.