The development of renewable energies is not only a technological process, but
also highly politically and emotionally charged. Lack of information, distrust and
ignorance of public fears can cause major problems up to complete failure of a
project. Therefore an open-minded communication and information strategy
based on longterm considerations is imperative to initiate public and private
understanding and to build confidence in this complex process.
In Germany geothermal energy enjoys a positive image in general. Geothermal
heat production took a successful development within the last years attracting
broad public interest. But also EGS research projects focusing on the feasibility
of geothermal power production receive active public and political support. The
project at Gross-Schoenebeck Northeast of Berlin is one of the pioneering EGS
R&D projects in Germany, supported by public funding since 2000.
The presentation shows experiences of the project, which started at a time
when the potential and the chances of geothermal energy were not yet really
obvious in this region. The location of the wells amid a UNESCO biosphere
reserve in Germany, a favoured hunting ground and recreation area - how to
convince people that geothermal research activities in such an area are worthy
to be supported? Once the political will was established, the challenge was to
involve and convince the people in charge of the biosphere reserve, local
politicians and authorities, the local forestry administration and last not least
the neighbouring community. All of these groups needed different arguments
and approaches to not only tolerate but actually support the endeavour.
Environmental and forestry concerns were dealt with by agreeing to plant new
trees in another area close to the nature reserve. The local population is
constantly informed about the progress. The importance of and international
attention created by the project are communicated at public hearings in town
halls, open days at the site and frequent meetings with town officials. A good
basis for communication has been developed by establishing a personal
dialogue on different levels, communicating the chances and risks of
geothermal research and involving people via public events, on-site field-work
presentations and media information.
Problems arose when seismic tests were carried out that reached beyond the
well-informed core community. The explosions frightened pepole, leading to
critical news coverage in the local media. These incidents during the exploration
experiment in the framework of the European I-GET project, carried out in
January 2006 in the surroundings of Groß Schönebeck, caused a critical
situation and highly emotional reactions in the region. An immediately installed
telephone help-line, on-site personal contacts and an open information
campaign helped to better understand the specific regional situation and to
limit the damage. However, this problem showed how negligence in prior
information can cause a sudden erosion of local support. Prior information not
only through local newspapers but also at he town hall level, informing every
mayor and police station in the region personally turned out to be
indispensable measures that could have avoided the critical situation.
In general, after 7 years of research activities, series of in situ testing and
drilling operations, the project Groß Schönebeck enjoys today public credibility
and a high degree of confidence.
The experiences outlined above showed that successful communication needs
to clearly identify what is important to the target audience you are attempting
to reach. To address their concerns, it is necessary to keep in mind the regional
and social situation and to take people seriously in their specific environment.
Demographics such as the local identity, education, economics, social and
political affiliation will affect how people receive and perceive messages and
how they will participate in the process. The public should be informed
comprehensively about the project at each stage as actual as possible via
- online web presentations
- project brochures and newsletters
- local newspapers, tv and radio considering the site-specific media
- scientists go public - open days, site presentations, public hearings
- personal contacts and frequent meetings with town officials
- by actively initiating talks with sceptic and critic groups.