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26.09.2017

How to communicate risks of renewable energies?

The picture shows the geothermal plant in Unterhaching near Munich (Germany) from the inside.

A study within the NRP 70 joint project “Hydropower and geo-energy” presents findings regarding public’s responses to incrementally different risk communication.

​Sub-surface energy activities, such as deep geothermal energy or hydraulic fracturing, entail the risk of induced seismicity including low-probability high-consequence (LPHC) events. But how should they be communicated to the public? This study conducted within the framework of the NRP 70 joint project “Hydropower and geo-energy” presents findings from an online experiment that empirically tested the public’s responses to incrementally different risk communication about induced seismicity and to different technology frames, namely deep geothermal energy (DGE) and shale gas.

Results show that the public would appreciate efforts in describing LPHC risks with numbers and optionally risk comparisons. However, there seems to be a trade-off between aiming for transparency by disclosing uncertainty and limited expert confidence, and thereby decreasing clarity and increasing concern in the view of the public. Above all, if DGE acceptance is higher, the reaction to the technology for which risks are communicated is more positive.

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