Geothermal energy development and the social impact

Geothermal pipes of the Makban geothermal plant, Philippines (source: ThinkGeoEnergy, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 29 Mar 2016

Looking at the social impact of geothermal development is receiving increasing attention and will be covered by the upcoming Iceland Geothermal Conference taking place April 26-28, 2016 in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Reflecting on the geothermal activities, one often thinks only about project economics, exploration risk, feed-in-tariffs, we even talk about stakeholder engagement to deal with potential opposition to development.

But what is about the social impact of geothermal development?

At a recent presentation at the GEA Geothermal Showcase, Kara Dewhurst of Dewhurst Group gave a great presentation on her PhD research on social responsibility and impact of geothermal projects in Latin America.

She described some of the social impacts of geothermal development, such as displacement and disputes over land rights, the rights of indigenous people, loss of livelihood, short term disruptions such as traffic, road, influx of population, noise, odor etc., lack of stakeholder engagement or consultation and disputes over employment and economic benefits.

These are all crucial elements to consider when developing projects. The question naturally is who has the responsibility to look into the impact of development beyond the traditional look at the environmental impact analysis. Social impact is as important.

So it is great to see the Iceland Geothermal Conference in Iceland in April this year, to dedicated a whole session and several presentation to this important topic. The session will feature experiences from a project in Ethiopia, a new project in the North of Iceland, a project in Hungary, as well as a view from the Iceland Geothermal Cluster. In an additional presentation, Marietta Sander from the International Geothermal Association will talk about the implications from the recent climate meetings and agreements of the COP21 meetings for the geothermal sector.

More details about the program of the Iceland Geothermal Conference and the session on social impact can be found via the event website.