Geothermal Associations – and their role as industry change agents

Exterior of 100MW geothermal power plant of Mighty River Power at Kawerau, New Zealand (source: Wikimedia/ creative commons)
Alexander Richter 14 Nov 2017

Collaboration is crucial in today’s world to promote an industry and its activities. Industry associations play an important part representing a unified voice, but also being a tool to adapt and change they way the geothermal industry is developing according to market demands.

Over the course of time, people, political movements, companies, and other entities have exhibited the value of joining forces to bolster their position and represent a unified voice. Political parties and interest groups are probably the best current-day example and highlight how political views and beliefs can affect decision making at the local, regional, national and international level. Put simply, the power of numbers pushes for change and creates impact.

Companies, whether in the same line of business, or different industries, also understand the need to join forces to take positions and influence decision makers. And while in the past these groups were seen mostly as pressure groups for labor and policy purposes, their perceived role today goes beyond that. They build cooperation among their members and other interest groups, foster the sharing of information, provide training, but also offer a variety of services to help their members grow their business.

Various type of associations

Industry associations, per definition, play an institutional and ambassadorial role by coordinating the activities of their members, as well as promoting, developing and preserving their industries. Specifically in the broad global context of geothermal energy, there are a variety of groups and associations representing the industry and its constituents, each with their own specific priorities, interests, goals, and initiatives. Some are more closely aligned to research and academia, others to the industry’s business interests through policy support and lobbying (i.e. trade associations). Others focus on cooperation for the sake of industry development and growth (i.e. cluster groups), or national marketing groups for business development (collaboration groups). Because these groups represent such varied interests within the industry, each approaches specific situations with a tailored perspective. They all however play an important role to promote awareness on the industry, address public concerns about development of geothermal resources, as well as work to promote dialogue that helps create business opportunities.

Associations are often forced to cope with the sobering reality of insufficient political support; limited support for the business environment in which they function, and tenuous support in terms of fund-raising. The latter in particular, forces difficult decisions on prioritization, the most attention, and the focus of their resources. This limits the impact that an association, as an advocate for the industry, and an agent of change, is capable of. At the industry level, this leads to a misalignment of interests – limitation of what an association is capable of backing. Naturally the academic and research community’s interests are in a different part of the geothermal development chain than those of a small-scale consulting firm, a technology supplier, a construction firm, developer or a large-scale power utility. Additionally, the reality remains that financing for geothermal projects is the largest obstacle for the industry as a whole, and in certain regions, is the key barrier to wide-scale development. These challenges, coupled with ongoing competition for government funds require even more collaboration and a focus on development activities that truly help the industry grow.

Despite the natural inevitability of differences arising, the geothermal associations are all unified in the promotion of the same industry, its incontestable environmental benefits and opportunities that the industry’s growth creates.  Instead of bunkering down and remaining fractious, associations have the ability to leverage their roles as catalysts in a united manner. There will always be some overlap in aims and goals, but no matter how large or small those overlaps may be, the more backing and support there are for initiatives universally agreeable for the geothermal industry, the better for the industry.

Industry associations can play a crucial role in this as change agents for the geothermal energy industry, both nationally and internationally.

Over the course of the next few days, we will publish a series of articles on different geothermal organisations.

This is an adapted article based on an article first published in the Think GEOENERGY Magazine published in September 2013.