The UK’s energy system is evolving. It is widely recognised that to meet our future energy needs whilst tackling the increasing threat of climate change, an energy strategy that integrates a broad range of low carbon energy technologies is required. Cutting carbon emissions, maintaining secure energy supplies and providing affordable energy are policy goals high on the political agenda, yet there are significant technological, economic, social and policy challenges facing the energy sector in the drive for decarbonisation.
Whilst significant attention is now being paid to developing science and technology research around new subsurface technologies that will contribute to a low carbon future, to date, much of the public discourse around the low carbon transition has focused on the role of surface-based renewables such as bioenergy, solar, hydro and wind power. In reality, this only makes up a small part of the energy landscape. There is a need to move beyond the focus on surface fixes and look at what the underground, or subsurface, offers us beyond the traditional focus on fossil fuels. The subsurface offers many additional opportunities to decarbonise our energy system, from shallow geothermal energy accessed via ground source heat pumps to deep geothermal energy in granitic areas of the country such as Cornwall, and heat from warm water in disused coal mines in Glasgow. Subsurface energy sources are also only part of the decarbonisation picture. Underground storage of CO2, disposal of radioactive waste in support of nuclear power generation and compressed air storage may all have a role to play whilst the UK transitions from fossil fuels to more renewables sources of energy.
Despite widespread societal support of a low carbon future, the technologies that will enable such a transition are often contested, with recent research identifying a complex mix of values and beliefs, social contexts, and types, scales and locations of technology amongst others as drivers that shape attitudes and perceptions. It is clear that the success of these emergent underground technologies relies heavily on public acceptance and support – as potential adopters, hosts, consumers and proponents or opponents of these technologies.
This PhD studentship is an interdisciplinary collaboration between The University of Stirling and the British Geological Survey (BGS), bringing together geoscience, energy geographies, big data, futures thinking and science communication expertise to explore how different ‘publics’ engage with existing and emerging subsurface energy technologies and to assess different mechanisms for framing these technologies within the low carbon narrative. By building an understanding of how risk perceptions and responses are shaped over space and time, this project aims to identify ways of meaningfully engaging the public in delivering a fair, equitable and supported low carbon surface and subsurface energy landscape.