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Exploring Mental Models of Geothermal Energy among Laypeople in Germany as Hidden Drivers for Acceptance

Original scientific paper

Journal of Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems
Volume 6, Issue 3, September 2018, pp 446-463
DOI: https://doi.org/10.13044/j.sdewes.d5.0192
Barbara S. Zaunbrecher , Johanna Kluge, Martina Ziefle
Human-Computer Interaction Center, Chair of Communication Science, RWTH Aachen University, Campus-Boulevard 57, 52074 Aachen, Germany


Geothermal energy provides an opportunity for sustainable energy supply. Nevertheless, some local geothermal energy projects face public opposition. To understand public acceptance or rejection of technologies, appropriate methods need to be applied depending on the project phase. This is exemplified for geothermal energy, for which an exploratory, qualitative study was conducted which uncovered laypeoples’ mental models by assessing picture, word and colour associations on geothermal energy. Participants (N = 79) were asked for their associations on geothermal energy, as well as its general acceptance. The results revealed insights into cognitive conceptions as well as possible misconceptions. It could also be shown that participants’ evaluation of associations in terms of positive emotions correlated positively with geothermal energy acceptance. The study verifies that assessing mental models can be valuable in early phases of understanding public acceptance, as acceptance-relevant criteria and topics to be addressed can be identified in order to adequately respond to people’s concerns.

Keywords: Renewables, Associations, Public perception, Communication, Drawings.

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