Projektinfo – Detailed information on energy research

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Information booth of the research project in Eich (Upper Rhine Graben).
© gec-co Global Engineering & Consulting-Company GmbH
Geothermal energy in public dialogue
Projektinfo 17/2016

The perceived advantages and disadvantages of deep geothermal energy as described by survey respondents.
© Kluge et. al. 2015

The structure of the TIGER communication concept.
© CBM GmbH
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Communication concept for deep geothermal energy

Technical innovations can only be successful if they are supported by the public. Plants for utilising renewable energies are also dependent on this backing. Early and comprehensive communication with the public is therefore indispensable. For deep geothermal energy, scientists have analysed public perceptions and have developed a communication concept. It offers operators and authorities a wealth of ideas and support for active and transparent public relations.

It is intended that renewable energies will provide over 80% of the power supply in Germany by 2050. In addition to wind and solar energy, hydropower and biomass, the natural, deep thermal heat deposits in the earth are also being developed. The geothermal power plants and heating networks are contributing to the success of the energy transition. Until now, however, there has been very little public perception of deep geothermal energy as a renewable energy source. In Germany, the geothermal resources are located in water and rock layers 400 metres below ground. Currently, most of the facilities are situated in the northern Upper Rhine Graben and in the Bavarian Molasse Basin in the greater Munich area. The two regions have very different geological structures at the relevant depth. This has a considerable influence on the course of the drilling and excavation work, as well as on the plant operation.

If a geothermal project is to be successful, it is not only the geological conditions, drilling and plant technology as well as the economic concept that are important but also public support. Acceptance is based on sound factual information, transparency and trustworthy communication on an equal footing from the beginning. Companies, operators and authorities therefore need to communicate the necessary material and project information at an early stage. Depending on the local conditions, specific communication concepts need to be developed for the respective plant.

In geothermal energy, this task is left to corporate structures where small companies with fewer than 20 employees form the majority. In the past, these companies have mainly focussed on technical aspects and have little experience in communication. In order to support companies and operators in carrying out public relations work, communication experts, social scientists, engineers and representatives from the industry have investigated the acceptance of deep geothermal energy in a research project called TIGER. Here the focus was on developing a communication concept with various digital information services for operators and authorities. The detailed version of the concept will appear as a book at the beginning of 2017.

The presented tools for active public relations work have been developed as an example for geothermal energy. However, they can also be applied to other technologies such as wind farms or planning procedures for new overhead transmission lines.


Geothermal energy in the public gaze

Representative and statistically confirmed surveys [2, 3] have shown that in Germany 89% of the public consider geothermal energy to be a sensible energy form. 81% have expressed their support for public funding and 71% would approve the construction of plants in their vicinity. The benefits of geothermal energy listed by those surveyed include local energy provision, sustainability and environmental friendliness, as well as the fostering of renewable energies. Unknown risks, costs and earthquakes were in particular mentioned as disadvantages. Given the perceived importance of „unknown risks“, the scientists have concluded that the public relations work needs to be based on explaining the strengths and weaknesses of geothermal energy. Those surveyed expected to be comprehensively informed about the planning of new geothermal plants as early as possible. In particular, the public demand the publication of expert appraisals, such as on the economic viability or seismic surveys. Most of those surveyed preferred the local press as a source of information and round tables as a place for active public participation.

Projektinfo 17/2016:
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Research project TIGER
Website with the access to the TIGER-App (german only)