Public perception of geothermal energy at the local level in the UK

Willems, Cees J.L. and Ejderyan, Olivier and Westaway, Rob and Burnside, Neil M. (2021) Public perception of geothermal energy at the local level in the UK. In: World Geothermal Congress 2020+1, 2021-10-24 - 2021-10-27, Harpa.

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Successful development of a new renewable energy technology does not only rely on the success of pilot projects but also to a significant extent on the development of an adequate public engagement strategy. To be able to develop such a strategy a good understanding is required of the public perception of the new technology. Geothermal energy is still an emerging technology in the UK; in the absence of public debate on this topic, media reporting provides a suitable proxy for its public perception. Therefore, this study has gauged the public perception of geothermal energy in the UK by evaluating local news articles from 1980 to 2018. A coding scheme was developed to derive the main themes and to identify both the perceived advantages and hurdles for geothermal development. We focussed on local newspapers to be able to compare public perception in different regions in the UK. Results show a mainly positive perception of geothermal energy in all geographical regions across the UK. Only few articles mention risks, induced seismicity and environmental pollution. In contrast, advantages and positive aspects of geothermal energy, such as its carbon neutral footprint, the enormous amount of available geothermal heat and the potential contribution of geothermal development to the revival of local economies, are much more frequently mentioned. Perceived hurdles that are mostly described in the articles are: (1) the absence of geothermal legislation and subsidies in the UK; (2) the lack of available funding; and finally (3) technological and geological challenges or uncertainties. Finally, we show that geothermal energy is most often related to electricity generation and granite resources, while the only successful deep geothermal site in the UK is a direct-use heating scheme exploiting a sedimentary aquifer.