Vaccine Confidence Project – potential awareness model for geothermal?

Vaccination in India (source: flickr/ DFID, UK aid, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 30 May 2013

Could a public confidence project for geothermal help on early monitoring and detection of public concerns around geothermal energy development and help gain more public awareness of the positive effects geothermal can offer?

Being a vivid listener to the BBC World Service there was a news story this morning that I immediately connected with some of the challenges that we face in raising public awareness for geothermal.

The story was tremendously inspiring and I consider this could be an interesting approach for dealing with the fact that there is little to none public awareness for geothermal.

The story talked about the great issue of vaccination and the Vaccine Confidence Project . The project’s main purpose “is to monitor public confidence in immunisation programmes by building an information surveillance system for early monitoring and detection of public concerns around vaccines; applying a diagnostic tool to data collected to determine the risk level of public concerns in terms of their potential to disrupt vaccine programmes.” “The Vaccine Confidence Project scans the web for new mentions of vaccines in the media or in blogs, whether positive or negative. It then follows up negative rumours on the ground with non-governmental organisations and health ministries to work out exactly what is happening and what can be done to address people’s concerns. Their first findings have just been published.” In the one year study, “they found that 69% of mentions were positive and 31% were negative. The project is run by Dr Heidi Larson, anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.” The project’s website:

A wonderful and rather important project that is effectively saving lives all over the world.

So how on earth does one make a connection to geothermal with such a fantastic and important project. Well let me explain my thinking behind it.

Depending to the region there is today little to non public awareness of geothermal and if there is development there is a lot of opposition, or at least very loud opposition. This is mostly based on elements of “renewable energy yes, but not in my backyard”, but often also based on issues related to emissions, noise, earthquake fears, social and economic impact etc.

If we take public and media awareness for geothermal, a good example is the 2009 hype on earthquakes and the fear thereof in geothermal development. The now infamous article and follow up media coverage on geothermal stimulation and “fracking” in the New York Times created a lot of negative press and I think we all agree that we as an industry simply weren´t well enough prepared for it nor was there sufficient cooperation between different groups in different countries. The experience of dealing with the media from Switzerland could have – if used more quickly and efficiently – helped the Californian debate.

So a project that constantly monitors ongoing geothermal media coverage and addresses upcoming issues quickly on a more global scale, but locally could be tremendously helpful.

This naturally applies to marketing the positive elements geothermal offers, but also addresses common concerns by people.

Lets take Hawaii as an example. The U.S. state in the middle of the Pacific is deriving most of its electricity from diesel generation at incredibly high prices and there are strong efforts to derive power from renewable energy sources on the islands of the state of Hawaii. But there is strong opposition to the possibly best solution for Hawaii, geothermal energy. Named are issues of land ownership and royalties, but also earthquake fears and emissions from geothermal projects. All of these are not new concerns, but given the global reach of news and the loudness of the opponents, those news are travelling across the globe and have an impact elsewhere despite different circumstances in different locations. So a concerted effort to address those issues effectively locally with global support and guidance could be helpful.

Source: BBC World Service