Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Archetypal Energy Narratives: Low-Temperature Geothermal


Is there are particular narrative that accompanies low-temperature geothermal resources? If so, what is the structure of the narrative? What are the underlying assumptions? What are implicit causal relationships? How does the narrative cohere?

Elements of the narrative:

1. The idea of low-temperature geothermal is a conundrum, an oxymoron, even.
2. Can relatively tepid water be used to generate energy? Where's the energy?
3. Changes in temperature and extreme thermal differences can trigger energy generation. How? There is equipment that will move (and start to generate electricity) when the temp diffs between two bodies of water are as little as 50 degrees.
4. The water is being produced anyway -- in conjunction with oil and gas. Typically, it's simply reinjected into a disposal / injection well. Why not capture the energy on its way back down into the earth?

Assumptions (to reinforce or to combat):

1. Low-temperature geothermal means something like tepid water, which is bad. (combat this faulty assumption)
2. Low temp means low energy. (combat this faulty assumption)
3. Fluids co-produced with oil and gas can be exploited / harvested / put to good use. (reinforce this positive assumption)
4. The co-produced energy is "clean" and "alternative" (since it is from warm water) and is a cleaner source of electricity than the oil or the gas. Virtue / value implications here. The geothermal elements can add virtue to a decidedly "unvirtuous" energy source, at least in today's view, if one views all oil and gas production as a source of carbon emissions.

Because the world tends to classify energy as "clean" or "dirty," and "good" or "bad," would it not follow that the narratives will only escalate over time? We'll have a good vs evil narrative -- clash of titans grand showdown. At least that's what the narrative expectations would lead one to expect.

Real-Life Intrusion
I'm in Starbucks right now and I'm amazed, as always, in the flows of crowds / customers. It's never an even stream. Either there is no line at all, or there is a long line. It's not just that people come in groups, it's that the groups cluster together. Five minutes ago there was no waiting. There was no activity for 5 minutes. In the last thirty seconds, 4 groups (clusters of two or more) and 3 individuals came in, for a total of around a dozen people in line. It's pretty amazing. I'm also amazed at the range of apparel options. It was cold last night -- 30 degrees or so -- and today is sunny. It is supposed to reach 50. Most people are wearing long-sleeve shirts, pants, jackets, or hoodies. But, here comes a guy in baggy shorts and a t-shirt. It's hard to understand! I wonder f crowd behavior is somehow determined by internal narratives; predictive of where people will be and when they should be there. There's an adorable pug sitting on the brick sidewalk on a pile of dried oak leaves. His leash is wrapped around a metal post, and he seems to be waiting quite patiently.

Back to Energy Narratives --

The more people classify items into good or bad, the more quickly they put themselves on a path to narrative inevitability.

"Narrative inevitability" has to do with a narrative that is so ingrained that if you have a story / tale / set of facts that gets anywhere close to it, the narrative will pull you in, drag you downstream, and right over the falls. Think of falling into the river that flows into Niagara Falls -- that is the pull of narrative inevitability. The only way to avoid it is to try to make sure your set of facts do not start shaping themselves so that they fall right into the stream of narrative inevitability.

Somewhere along the line, it's important to start reshaping your story so that it fits a different, competing narrative that fits your needs and purposes a bit more clearly / adeptly.