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Competent Seismological Consulting for Deep Geothermal Energy Projects

The Energy Strategy 2050 established by the Swiss federal Office of Energy (SFOE) foresees deep geothermal energy to be an important component of Switzerland's future energy portfolio. The experiences of the Basel (2006) and St. Gallen (2012) geothermal projects in Switzerland, but also of international projects in Pohang (South Korea) or Strasbourg (France), illustrate that in order to successfully exploit deep geothermal energy for heat use or electricity generation, adequate risk governance of potentially induced seismicity is critically important for establishing safe and economically viable projects. Achieving this goal primarily involves providing state-of-the-art seismological advice for decision-making to cantonal authorities, and enabling an adequate, independent, and transparent seismic monitoring for deep geothermal projects. These measures will also promote the public acceptance of the technology on the long run.

The GEOBEST project, funded by the Swiss Federal office of Energy (SFOE), enables the Swiss Seismological Service at ETH Zurich to support cantonal authorities in handling issues related to induced seismicity during all development phases of a deep geothermal project (preliminary investigation, approval, construction, and operation).

The SED has internationally-recognized expertise in seismic research and monitoring, and it maintains a working group that focuses specifically on the scientific and applied aspects of induced seismicity. GEOBEST-CH enables the SED to make this expertise available to cantonal and national supervisory authorities that currently often lack this expertise themselves. This puts the SED in a position to provide advice and support in the evaluation of seismic issues with regard to the approval, construction, and running of deep geothermal energy projects.

Expert seismic monitoring is required when it comes to evaluating the seismic reaction of the subsoil to the intervention associated with a deep geothermal energy project, and to taking any appropriate measures to minimize this reaction. GEOBEST-CH has a pool of surface and borehole seismometers that the SED can use to provide active support on selected projects in this important task. This enables the SED to contribute its expertise and experience in the areas of network planning and operation, real-time seismic analysis, and automatic notification of the relevant authorities and stakeholder groups in an optimal manner, and without significant additional costs for the cantons or operators. At the same time, it also makes it possible to avoid insufficient seismic monitoring due to cost pressure or lack of competence.

With GEOBEST-CH, the SED contributes to quality assurance in the context of monitoring and risk assessment in deep geothermal energy projects. A particular aim in this regard is to achieve a standardized approach in dealing with seismic issues in the context of environmental-impact assessments across cantonal borders, and should in the future also enable commercial providers to offer high-quality products that are potentially suitable for certification.

Independent and objective provision of information to all stakeholder groups is essential for an open risk dialog on the topic of deep geothermal energy and induced earthquakes. The SED makes a valuable contribution to achieving this in the context of the GEOBEST-CH project. It does this by compiling neutral and reliable background information on all aspects of the issue, publishing this information on its website in each of Switzerland’s three official languages. At the same time, it provides real-time information on observed earthquakes and their interpretation during the course of a GEOBEST-CH-supervised deep geothermal energy project. Members of the public can register their own earthquake observations online.

Thanks to its close links with ETH Zurich's lectures and postgraduate courses, the SED makes a significant contribution to training and further education related to deep geothermal energy. Bachelor’s and master’s theses at ETH Zurich on the topic of induced earthquakes can be supervised within the framework of GEOBEST-CH, ideally in collaboration with operators of the projects supported by the SED in the context of GEOBEST-CH and the cantonal and national authorities involved.

The mechanisms that lead to induced seismicity in deep geothermal energy are not well understood. In particular, no reliable methods are currently known for predicting or even preventing induced earthquakes of excessive intensity. It is essential, therefore, that collaboration and exchange between research and industry on an international level increase with a view to developing suitable solutions. GEOBEST-CH intends to hold national and international workshops on the subject of induced seismicity aimed at promoting and ensuring knowledge and technology transfer between research, industry, and local stakeholder groups.

Geobest2020+ Workshop

Nicole Lupi, FOEN (German, French)

Stefan Wiemer, SED (German, French)

Toni Kraft, Philippe Roth, Verónica Antunes, Michèle Marti, SED (German, French)

Sandrine Ortet, Canton VD (German, French)

GEOBEST2020+ Flyer (German, French, Italian, English)