Accepted Paper:

Promises in deep geothermal energy provision: closing down possible pathways?   

Author:

Olivier Ejderyan (ETH Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses to what extent the promises of access to cheap, unlimited and regular power through the development of enhanced geothermal systems have affected the development of deep geothermal energy in Switzerland.

Paper long abstract:

My presentation discusses how promises of access to cheap, unlimited and regular power through enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) affect the development of deep geothermal energy (DGE) in Switzerland. DGE is the extraction of geothermal energy from 2 to 5 km below earth surface. EGS is a type of DGE based on the stimulation of artificial reservoirs by hydraulic fracturing and water circulation in a closed circuit.

Based on an analysis of French-speaking Swiss newspapers from 1997 to 2015, I identify a regime of promising presenting EGS as a possibility to extract heat for power generation independently from tectonic formations. After the failure of a project that triggered an earthquake in Basel in 2007, the regime shifted towards promises of new technologies to control induced seismicity. I compare these promises to the ones linked to the development of hydrothermal energy, a form of DGE also explored in Switzerland, which requires the presence of aquifers with enough hot water.

Promises linked to EGS enable a framing in terms of technological innovation, experimentation and boldness. In contrast, promises of hydrothermal DGE frame its success in terms of acquiring precise knowledge of local conditions, systematic exploration and luck.

I argue that such framing contributes to secure R&D investments and political support for EGS despite the drawback of Basel and the existence of only two EGS demonstration power plants worldwide. More mature technologies linked to hydrothermal DGE appear as financially too risky in the Swiss context.

Panel T094
Emerging science and technology : questioning the regime of promising