The increasing global population has mounted a lot of pressure on natural resources to expand and sustain economic development. The energy sector is a notable industry that has contributed immensely to the growing pressure for natural resources (Bargh, 2012). Consequently, many economies have tried to adopt sustainable ways of maintaining energy production.
One such initiative has been the focus on geothermal energy. However, few researchers have sought to explore the sustainability of engineering projects in this energy sector (Perdan, 2000). This literature gap has opened the topic of exploring sustainability issues in geothermal exploration to guessing.
This paper seeks to fill this literature gap by exploring the main economic, environmental, and social sustainability issues in geothermal exploration. However, this study analyses these issues in the context of a pending geothermal project in Eden. The structure of this paper outlines four sections – project, solutions, evaluation, and conclusion.
The project section describes the setting of the engineering project, and the social, economic, and environmental issues surrounding the same. This paper also discusses the implications of these issues in this section of the paper. The “solution” section outlines how to overcome the sustainability issues that this paper outlines in the “project” section.
The “evaluation” section explores these solutions in detail to provide more insight on how to manage the sustainability issues identified. Lastly, the “conclusion” section restates the key points in this paper.
The project setting involves the construction of a geothermal power plant in Eden.
The extraction of geothermal energy in Eden leads to the production of greenhouse gases, which are harmful to the environment. The concentrations of these greenhouse gases especially occur around the geothermal plants.
The production of the greenhouse gas has a profound impact on the environment because experts have established that increased concentrations of greenhouse gases lead to rising global temperatures (Energy Informative, 2012). Scientists have also theorized that the increased production of these greenhouse gases may lead to rising sea levels, and changes in the global ecosystem (Ozil, 2011).
The construction of a geothermal power plant and the subsequent extraction of geothermal power from the earth’s surface may also lead to the instability of the earth’s surface. Certainly, scientists have proved that the extraction of geothermal power from the earth may cause rising earth movements (Energy Informative, 2012).
New Zealand and Germany provide a few examples of countries that have experienced the impact of such earth movements (because of geothermal power extraction). Ozil (2011) adds that these earth movements may lead to hydraulic fracturing (usually, the occurrence of hydraulic fracturing is a critical part in the development of advanced geothermal power plants), thereby causing earthquakes.
The commercial exploitation of geothermal energy comes with a hefty financial cost. Energy Informative (2012) estimates that drilling a new geothermal power plant (that produces only one megawatt of power) may cost up to $7 million. Besides drilling new reservoirs, the economic cost of constructing geothermal heating and cooling systems are high.
The huge financial costs of constructing new geothermal power plants have elicited a lot of debate regarding the cost effectiveness of this energy production plan. Consequently, some economists have expressed their pessimism regarding the potential of extracting geothermal energy in a cost effective manner (using current technology) (Daim, 2012).
There are a few social impacts attached to the Eden project (except for the construction of new infrastructure, employment of local people, and the support for local initiatives through corporate social responsibility). However, these initiatives only outline the positive social benefits that may arise from the project. Indeed, there are negative social issues that may occur from the project as well.
This paper already shows that the huge concentrations of greenhouse gases may concentrate in areas surrounding the geothermal plant. Coupled with the fears that the continued existence of the project in Eden may cause earthquakes, the concentration of greenhouse gases may cause many community members to worry about the safety of their livelihoods and habitats.
Comprehensively, the social issues that may occur from the Eden project centre on the economic and environmental impacts of the project.
Implications for Key Stakeholders
The economic impact of the Eden project centres on the high cost of financing the project. The huge capital investments that the financiers will make on the project may have a negative impact on other projects because it may lead to the diversion of financial resources from other important economic activities (to the geothermal project). This way, other economic projects may suffer from inadequate financing as the geothermal project consumes most of the finances.
Community and Project Owner
The community living around the project vicinity outlines the main stakeholder that may experience the negative environmental influence of the geothermal project. The project owners may similarly experience bad press in this regard. Certainly, the project owners may suffer a negative public image if they do not take the right corrective measures to remedy the environmental impact of the project.
This negative public image may soil their business reputation and increase public scrutiny for their current and future projects. These outcomes are not good for business because it may lead to the loss of future business.
Besides the project owners, the communities that live around the project may equally experience the effects of pressing environmental and economic issues regarding the project. Indeed, the implications of the social issues for the communities that live around the project focus on the environmental and economic issues in this paper.
From the environmental issues that may arise from the project, communities living around the plant may experience acid rains and the disruption of agricultural patterns. These impacts may occur because of the production of greenhouse gases from the geothermal plant.
Improvements in technology may significantly reduce the financial costs associated with geothermal projects. Indeed, compared to the past two decades, there has been a 25% reduction in the cost of producing geothermal energy (Wright, 2007). Adopting the newest technology in geothermal energy production is therefore a sure way of reducing the associated costs of geothermal energy production.
Certainly, adopting new technology increases the efficiency of energy production and eliminates the economic issues surrounding the drilling of new wells. Wright (2007) affirms that future projects in geothermal energy extraction need to consider improvements in technology as a way of reducing the cost of extracting geothermal energy.
Moreover, albeit there are significant concerns regarding the huge economic costs of constructing a new geothermal power plant, it is crucial to say that these developments may amount to huge cost savings in the end. Therefore, even though the construction of new geothermal power plants may be expensive in the short-term, it is cheaper to use this energy production method in the end.
Since the construction of the new geothermal power plant at Eden may pose significant environmental challenges, it is crucial to locate the plant far from where people live. This way, it will be easier to prevent the community inhabitants from experiencing adverse emissions from the plant.
A cost-benefit analysis of this strategy stipulates that a win-win situation may occur when the project owners insulate the community from the negative environmental impact of the project (by locating the project far from human settlements). A cost-benefit analysis shows that allowing the project to continue for the economic benefit of the society leads to increased energy sources.
Sensitizing the community about the possible implications of the project (on their lives) is a sure way of preparing them for the potential benefits and challenges of having a geothermal project in their community. Many benefits may accrue from the project, compared to the disadvantages of the project on the community.
It is therefore possible to reduce the anxiety regarding the social issues that may accrue from the project by sensitizing the community about the possible impacts of the project on their lives.
The above strategic solution for mitigating the economic, social, and environmental issues surrounding the Eden project depends on a few factors. For example, the location of the geothermal facility away from human settlement depends on the availability of land at Eden. It is also crucial to say that the location of the power plant depends on its strategic geological location.
It would be futile to locate the plant far from human settlements if the maximum productivity of the plant may fail to suffice in this location. Secondly, the adoption of new technology (as a way to reduce the financial cost of undertaking the project) largely depends on the availability of this technology. Therefore, it is only possible to adopt new technology if such technology exists and if it is available to the users.
Moreover, even if the technology exists, other financial and fiscal factors may affect the cost-benefit analysis of adopting the new technology. For example, if the new technology is unavailable in Eden and the project owner has to import such technology, it may be expensive for the project owner to adopt such technology if the taxes are high, or if there are no subsidies for the investor.
It is therefore crucial to seek government support (in terms of subsidies and tax waivers) when adopting such a strategy. Comprehensively, these issues outline the main implications surrounding the proposed solutions.
After weighing the findings of this paper, the proposed engineering project poses significant environmental, social, and economic issues. However, in my view, environmental issues manifest as the most pertinent sustainability issue regarding the project. More importantly, greenhouse gas production stands out as a serious environmental concern.
In this regard, it is crucial to show that the intensity of greenhouse gases produced from the geothermal project may not compare with the intensity of greenhouse gases produced from other energy sources (such as fossil fuel). Some scientists have even proposed that it is better to use geothermal energy on a wide scale (despite its production of greenhouse gases) because it may reduce the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (compared to the volume of greenhouse gases produced from the widely used fossil fuel) (Wright, 2007).
To this extent, there is enough justification to continue with the project, despite the prevailing environmental issues. The economic and social issues arising from the project may however be mitigated through the adoption of new technology and increased sensitization about the possible benefits of the project.
Adopting the above recommendations require the input of all project stakeholders. This is the best way to overcome some of the main challenges surrounding the project’s sustainability analysis.
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