A Comparative Case Study of Enhanced Geothermal Systems: Interacting Imaginaries of Place and Energy in Renewable Energy Transitions

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Abstract

Responding to the threat of climate change requires better understanding of the social and cultural forces that shape both our energy systems and responses to efforts to change those systems. Public responses to new clean energy technologies, including negotiations of the risk and acceptability of local projects, can be critical to the success or failure of such technologies. Prior research has used sociotechnical imaginaries – collectively-held visions of desirable futures and roles of technology – to understand trajectories of energy development regionally and nationally, while others have explored the influence of place and identity on local attitudes. However, interactions between potentially competing visions of energy and place at different scales have not been considered. In two qualitative case studies in the U.K. and the U.S., this dissertation investigates an emerging renewable energy technology known as Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) to examine how multi-scalar imaginaries of energy and place interact and compete within a local context to shape public negotiations of acceptability. Further, I examine how communication strategies that draw on place-based visions of energy futures may enhance public acceptance of local energy projects. In the UK, the United Downs Deep Geothermal Project in Cornwall is viewed as “heat mining” - the next phase in a long history of Cornish mining and underground extraction, with geothermal development envisioned as a springboard to local and regional economic revitalization. In contrast, the Cornell Earth Source Heat project in Ithaca, NY, is positioned as an exploratory project that will lead to regional and national energy security through the campus-level “data mining” to gather knowledge and test the new technology. However, an emphasis on the experimental nature of EGS creates tension with local visions of Tompkins County as a leader in sustainability through the urgent adoption of mature renewable technologies. Imaginaries of place and energy are embedded in rhetoric used to discuss, debate, and promote local EGS projects, provoking visions of the future place that will result from embrace of or opposition to EGS.

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2023-05
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enhanced geothermal systems; geothermal energy; place imaginaries; renewable energy; sociotechnical imaginaries; underground imaginaries
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McComas, Katherine
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Byrne, Sahara
Niederdeppe, Lee
Stedman, Richard
Degree Discipline
Communication
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Ph. D., Communication
Degree Level
Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
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dissertation or thesis
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