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Identifying sustainability impacts of geothermal energy development

University of Iceland (Source: Flickr, CC, By: Guðmundur D. Haraldsson
Francisco Rojas 16 Mar 2015

A recent academic paper published by Ruth Shortall and other researchers from the University of Iceland covers sustainability impacts and assessment frameworks for geothermal development.

The geothermal industry is quite small compared to other renewable energies, but thanks to its multiple advantages (i.e. baseload energy source) it has seen an average growth of 4% to 5% globally; being 2013 a particularly good year since 530 MW of geothermal power came online worldwide, according to the latest Annual U.S. & Global Geothermal Power Production Report.

Leonardo Energy brings to light an academic paper published by Ruth Shortall and other researchers from the University of Iceland titled: “‘Geothermal energy for sustainable development: A review of sustainability impacts and assessment frameworks”, were the assumption is made that geothermal energy will likely grow in a substantial way, the necessary steps need to be taken in order to see that growth is coupled with sustainability.

The same source states that “to classify the sustainability issues or impacts associated with geothermal energy developments, the authors use the themes identified by the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) Framework. A summary of their work, listing the positive and negative impacts of geothermal energy, is provided in this table:”

Theme Positive impacts Negative impacts
Poverty
  • Increased per capita income
  • Increase in salaries
  • Social development initiatives
  • Affordable energy supply
  • Higher living standards
  • Improved food security
  • Access to drinking water
  • Rising property prices
  • Community displacement
Health
  • Improved sanitation
  • Improved medical facilities
  • Lower indoor air pollution
  • Therapeutic uses
  • Odour nuisance
  • Toxic gas emissions
  • Water contamination risk
  • Noise pollution
Education
  • Improved education facilities
  • Improved school attendance
  • Sudden or unprecedented cultural change
Natural hazards
  • Induced seismicity
  • Subsidence
  • Hydrothermal eruptions
Demographics
  • Positive social change
  • Increased tourism
  • Negative cultural impacts
  • Resettlement
  • Livelihood displacement
Atmosphere
  • Displacement of greenhouse gas emissions from other energy sources
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • H2S pollution
  • Toxic gas emissions
Land
  • Small land requirements relative to other energy sources
  • Habitat loss
  • Soil compaction
  • Conflict with other land uses
Forests
  • Replacement of traditional biomass
  • Deforestation
  • Ecosystem loss
Freshwater
  • Low lifecycle water consumption relative to other energy sources
  • Conflict with other energy uses
  • Contamination of shallow aquifers and other water bodies
Biodiversity
  • Habitat loss or disturbance
  • Loss of rare geothermal ecosystems
Economic development
  • Increased energy security
  • Low climate dependence
  • High capacity factor
  • Direct, indirect and induced economic activity and employment
  • Few direct long-term jobs
Consumption and production patterns
  • Waste heat can be cascaded or recaptured
  • Waste may cause environmental contamination
  • Risk of over-exploitation
  • High cost of turbines may compromise efficiency

(Table: Leonardo Energy)

Generating a sustainability report and assessing the impact of geothermal development will greatly aid decision-makers and stakeholder on how to move forward with geothermal projects to ensure minimal negative impacts and maximizing the positive outcomes.

To read the paper by Miss Shortall and colleagues from University of Iceland 

To read more on the subject, please follow the link below.

Source: Leonardo Energy