Accepted Paper:

The geological underground as a laboratory: Social practices in the engineering of geothermal heat  


Alena Bleicher (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ)
Matthias Gross (UFZ)

Paper long abstract:

Geothermal energy is seen as an important factor for renewable energy systems. Geothermal heating for private houses and public buildings is perceived as an almost limitless energy potential with stable availability, and the promise to gain some independence from established energy markets. Compared with other renewable energy sources at first sight geothermal energy seems to be an almost "perfect" energy source. However, the installations of downhole heat exchangers and heat pumps - often fostered by political goals and economic incentives - have triggered controversies on environmental effects and potential risks of the technology. Questions often emerge in situ while new facilities are installed and in use. Answers need to be found in the course of the development as no laboratory experiments are possible. Thus understood the geological underground and the attached single households over ground become the laboratory. In the course of experimentation, actors have to deal with ever-changing situations as regards the use of the renewable energy source and environmental safety. In this presentation we will discuss results of an investigation of learning and coping experiences that environmental administrators and house owners had during the processes of utilizing geothermal energy sources. We will analyze strategies that actors rely on when dealing with open questions as regards novel technologies and quality control. We will show on how actors become experts in geothermal energy tapping and usage through learning by doing and continuously moving into the unknown underground.

Panel L4
Energy controversies and technology conflicts