Environmental evaluation of a Geothermal Power Plant in the Southern German Molasse Basin by a Life Cycle Analysis

On the 26th March 2021, ENERCHANGE and ThinkGeoEnergy hosted a new episode of their recurring Focus on Geothermal – Energy for the Weekend event this time focused on Life Cycle Assessment of Geothermal Energy to raise public acceptance based on a German Case Study.

Geothermal Energy and social acceptance

The webinar highlighted the competitive disadvantage of geothermal energy compared to other energy sources due to public opinion. Despite of its green potential and output advantages (baseload capacity, long lifetime of operation and wide accessibility), geothermal is often perceived a harmful energy source by general public.

According to the present case study and similar past conclusion of experts, the roots of poor social acceptance performances of geothermal energy lie in poor communication of geothermal green capacities compared to other energy sources both fossil and green. The German team hosting the event suggested that a clear demonstration of the green output of geothermal energy could outweigh negative initial views on the technology. In addition, the team believes that a strict environmental monitoring of geothermal power plants is necessary to showcase transparency, accountability and good faith of geothermal developers. To that end, the team proposed that geothermal projects shall establish a thorough Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of their operations from exploration to decommission to monitor CO2 emissions and take measures if levels are abnormally high.

Life Cycle Assessment for geothermal projects

A Life cycle assessment is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life, spanning from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, and use.

Possible considerations of a Life Cycle Assessment for Geothermal plants.

Based on this new operational framework for a Life Cycle Assessment in geothermal, 3 steps have to be taken into account when assessing geothermal power plants:

  • Drilling geothermal wells require energy (often electricity) whose origin (fossil v. renewable) has to be taken into account. Furthermore, building a plant requires, raw materials, transport and auxiliary energy. All of which have a carbon footprint. The total energy demand for input will be accounted for in the calculation of the environmental impact of a project.
  • The same principle applies for the output of a station. Whilst the electricity produced by a geothermal power plant might be 100% clean, it bears the limitations of transport of raw materials for construction and the building of the plant itself.
  • Finally, it is necessary to ensure that refrigerant used in geothermal turbines shall not leak which would have a detrimental impact on the environment. One way to ensure transparency and maintenance of high safety standards throughout the lifetime of a geothermal plant is to enforce environmental monitoring. Said monitoring shall be available to the public to showcase the good performance of geothermal energy which would then improve social acceptance of the technology once the public sees for itself that geothermal has great versatility coupled with high environmental standards.

LPRC at “How the European Arctic secures the European Green Deal” webinar

On Wednesday – 17 March 2021 – LPRC was present at the webinar “How the European Arctic secures the European Green Deal”, which was an online event organized by Svemin (the Swedish Association of Mines, Mineral and Metal Producers), Finnmin, North Sweden European Office, and region västerbotten.

The webinar was divided in three main sessions: Mineral extraction, battery production and recycling. These are relevant topics to emphasize the importance of minerals and metals to support the technology involved in the production of windmills, electrification of transport, solar PV systems and others, which are among the solutions towards a low-carbon future.

The program counted with several speakers, panel discussions, as well as a live chat that allowed participants to learn more and discuss about the leading role of the European Arctic in sustainable mining in the world. More specifically, how the Nordic Countries are the front-runners in reducing the carbon footprint per unit of extracted raw materials, and, therefore, contributing to the successful realization of the Green Deal goals in Europe.

The CEOs and other representatives of relevant companies of the sector, such as Boliden, LKAB, Finnish Minerals Group and Talga Group Ltd were invited to give their opinion on the topic and present their initiatives towards a sustainable European raw materials supply. In addition, Policy Analysts, MEPs, MPs and other decision makers provided their overview and commented on the existing and future initiatives in the sector, as well as the importance of generating demand for sustainable raw materials for further investments. The closing remarks were given by Mikael Janson, Director North Sweden European Office.

The webinar consisted of fruitful discussions and a lot of lessons learned for other regions in the EU and worldwide to join forces towards a low-carbon future in the mining sector. The event was 3 hours long, and the whole recording can be watched on the Svemin channel on YouTube – HERE.

LPRC participates at the GEOENVI-CROWDTHERMAL joint webinar – part 2

The recommendations coming from GEOENVI (see part 1) directly echoe the CROWDTHERMAL project’s vision for social acceptance on geothermal projects. CROWDTHERMAL identified 4 factors of public acceptance:

  1. Self-efficacy: Energy transition means the change of infrastructures and daily life environments. It is important to experience one’s own impact and influence within this transformation process.
  2. Identity: The more people can identify emotionnally with a measure, the greater their willingness to accept it. This means that infrastructure measures must also be recognised emotionally as elements of one’s own living environment. This is more likely to happen with more local stakeholders involed (regulators, SME and local communities).
  3. Orientation and insight: If people understand the necessity of a political decision and support the goals and means envisaged by this decision, they are more likely to accept it. Therefore, transparent information is needed about what they will face. Crucial elements are transparency about pros and cons and potential alternatives.
  4. Positive risk-benefit balance: Acceptance is more likely the more the planned consequences of a decision benefits oneself or related groups. This includes the perception of low or at least acceptables risks. In this context, the risk assessments of experts and those of laypersons are often not congruents.

Finally, with regard to financing of geothermal projects, CROWDTHERMAL confirmed that community funding can play an important role to initiate and support geothermal projects by raising additional funds. Especially in the early project development phases, alternative finance methods can enable more geothermal projects to be brought to life. Community funding can also achieve public engagement and increase acceptance. In the light of the massive investments needed, especially for deep geothermal power projects, community funding is yet not considered to be functional entirely on its own, but rather in combination with other (conventional) forms of finance.

Community funding can play an important role to initiate and support geothermal projects.

The most suitable alternative finance method very much depends on the individual project characteristics and context. At the early project development stages, especially crowdfunding (shares/equity or reward-based) can be attractive options to achieve community co-ownership and to enhance project support. The high resource-related risk in the early phases leads to high return expectation of investors. Community funding is generally less risky in the construction and operation phases, but the potential returns at these stages are also less attractive.

Understanding and developing a project in a holistic way, taking into consideration technical, financial, and social dimensions as well as their interdependency is an important risk mitigation measure for project developers. It reduces the risk of interface problems and increases the chances for a Social License to Operate as well as for technical and economic success.

Further readings:

GEOENVI Recommendations for the harmonisation of geothermal environmental regulations in the EU: https://www.geoenvi.eu/publications/recommendations-for-european-harmonisation-of-geothermal-environmental-regulations-in-the-eu/

CROWDTHERMAL guidelines for Public acceptance: https://www.crowdthermalproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CROWDTHERMAL-D1.4.pdf

CROWTHERMAL community for renewable energy best practices in Europe: https://www.crowdthermalproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CROWDTHERMAL-D2.1-new-version.pdf

LPRC participates at the GEOENVI-CROWDTHERMAL joint webinar – part 1

On Tuesday 16 March, GEOENVI and the CROWDTHERMAL project, where LPRC leads one work package, hosted a joint online event titled: “Targeting acceptability and co-ownership for deep geothermal projects”. In this event, an expert panel discussed recommendations and ways forward for public engagement for deep geothermal, based on good practices on crowdfunding from the CROWDTHERMAL project and gave some academic perspectives on the subject.

Mission statement of both projects:

The objective of the GEOENVI project is to answer environmental concerns in terms of both impacts and risks, by first setting an adapted methodology for assessing environment impacts to the project developers, and by assessing the environmental impacts and risks of geothermal projects operational or in development in Europe.

The webinar (part 1):

Both EU projects tackle the question of public engagement with different hypothesis, so this webinar was an opportunity to gain a better overall understanding of public engagement based on two different scopes and methodologies.

The first part of the webinar was focused on the research output of the GEOENVI project. GEOENVI argues that further development of geothermal projects will boil down to creating an energy community and better communication on the side of developers. The combination of these two aspects is believed to have the potential to raise social acceptance of geothermal projects.

Building an energy community is the action of involving local stakeholders (regulators, local industries, SMEs and individual citizens) in the production of sustainable heat and/or electricity. The aim is to ensure that energy production can provide opportunities to local businesses (see similar conclusion from the Trends in geothermal webinar) as well as energy for local households. The figure below showcases some of the inititation that may be undertaken by project developpers and regulatory authorities to insert energy project in a community to the benefits of a variety of economic activities.

1Initiatives to promote the sustainable development of geothermal areas.

With regards to dissemination and communcation of project activities, GEOENVI discovered that there is a gap between how project developpers think they communicate and how the public feels it is informed. On the following figure,  it is appararent that the public generally feels poorly informed. This misunderstanding in communication draws a wedge between a project and its surrounding community. In Alsace, this wedge resulted in tension between local communities and geothermal development in spite of the geothermal potential of the area and the positive economical impact of competititive green energy on its surrounding market. The problematic is particularly interresting when we consider that misinformation leading to mlistrust of a technology is also visible in other sector (wind turbines, electric cars and more recently vaccines).

Participation in public inquiries held in Alsace 2015/2016.

Based on these two problematics, GEOENVI will provide policy recommendation for the European Union in hope that it could turn the tie of geothermal development in the continent, thus meeting climate goals whilst ensuring social gains at local level.

GEOENVI calls for European standards on information sharing by setting up minimum qualitative requirements for information sharing on energy projects. This will not only ensure better trust into new green technologies but also enables project developpers to draw conclusions from other projects that have similar minimal communication requirements:

  • Choose and collect the relevant information enabling project developpers and researchers alike to confidentially collect environmental concerns and posititve impact to compare any project with other Renewable Energy Sources (RES);
  • Adapt the communication target: distinguish ‘public’ from ‘experts’ in the communication strategy so that anyone can understand the purpose and methodlogy of an energy project in his/her/their own words;
  • Improve data accessibility and awareness of accessible information: FAIR data principle , independent appeal commintee for confidentiality issues;
  • Share reliable information: All project developpers shall ensure a pro-active data sharing strategy to inform the public in the name, of transparency and trust building.

This article continues on part 2.

LPRC @ EIT RawMaterials Brokerage

LPRC took part as one of the many participants of the recent EIT RawMaterials Brokerage event on the Call for Projects 2022 (KAVA 8). This was the first opportunity to listen from EIT RawMaterials themselves on what they want for the upcoming calls. Thanks to the event, LPRC gained knowledge that will sure implement in the elaboration of the future proposals for this year.

LPRC is an Associated Partner of EIT RawMaterials for 2021 and, therefore, it is able to participate and lead proposals.

If you are interested in collaborating in a proposal with us for this year’s EIT RawMaterials Call for Projects, please let us know!