Task 4.1: Risk, safety and societal acceptance

Research partners: Swiss Seismological Service (SED), Institute for Geophysics (IfG) at ETHZ, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (D-BAUG) at ETHZ, Department of Environmental Systems Science (D-USYS) at ETHZ, Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences (CRYOS) at ETHZ, Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI)

Research objectives
The exploitation of underground energy resources as well as the use and expansion of hydropower are, like any other energy technology, not risk free. To address this risk, we develop upon the holistic concept of risk governance and community resilience, advocating a broad picture of risk: In addition to risk analysis and risk management, we also investigate how risk-related decision-making unfolds when a range of actors is involved. This requires coordination and possibly reconciliation between a profusion of roles, perspectives, goals and activities. Developments include: a rigorous common methodology and a consistent modelling approach to hazard, vulnerability, risk, resilience and societal acceptance assessment of energy technologies; a stress test framework and its application to assess the vulnerability and resilience of individual critical energy infrastructures, as well as the first level of interdependencies among these infrastructures; standardized protocols, operational guidelines and/or softwares for monitoring strategies, hazard and risk assessment during all project phases (including real-time procedures), and finally for mitigation and related communication strategies.

Risk Governance by its very nature is a truly interdisciplinary and integrative activity, with interfaces to science, industry, regulators, and the public / media. The composition of the team behind task 4.1 reflects these needs and provides bridges to the other tasks of the SCCER-SoE, liaising both geo-energy and hydropower research by using a common risk governance language. The fact that the core team at ETHZ is located in a central office, together with the SCCER-SoE exploration and modelling teams promotes exchanges within the broad SCCER-SoE landscape. Participation of PSI additionally provides a natural link with other integrative activities. Exchanges with other SCCERs is also ongoing (e.g. FURIES and CREST). Via the SED, meetings occur on a regular basis with cantonal and industry representatives in order to discuss the application of our R&D for ongoing and future projects. Additional synergies with other projects, funded by both Switzerland and the European Union, are listed below.

Our approach is based on the holistic concept of risk governance and community resilience. Research themes are viewed from different perspectives, including geology, applied physics, engineering and social sciences. For deep geo-energy (DGE), all steps of an industrial project are analysed (need for DGE, siting, planning, drilling and reservoir creation, stimulation and water injection, operation, post-operation). For hydropower, which is a mature industry, other aspects previously lacking or understudied are investigated (multi-risk, accident risk). Common to both industries is how to deal with rare extreme events and high uncertainties.

  • The overall research question is how to create a lasting heat exchanger with acceptably low levels of induced seismicity. This needs a shift from model development (phase 1 of the SCCER-SoE) to model validation and application, mitigation strategies, including Risk-Cost Benefit Analysis, Multi Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA), Multi-Risk assessment and interaction with HSE (towards the end of phase 1 and in phase 2 of the SCCER-SoE).
  • In the hydropower domain, the scope of the task must be broadened to cover risks of earthquake, landslides that trigger impulse waves, and the coupling between these processes.

The primary outcomes of this task are so far:

  • A rigorous common methodology and a consistent modelling approach to hazard, vulnerability, risk, resilience and societal acceptance assessment of energy technologies.
  • A stress test framework to assess the vulnerability and resilience of individual critical energy infrastructures, addressing also the first level of interdependencies (in a multi-risk sense) among these.
  • Standardized protocols, operational guidelines and software for monitoring strategies, for real-time hazard and risk assessment during all project phases, and for mitigation and related communication strategies.
  • Application of empirical and modelling based approaches for selected test cases of past and future projects, in support of technology assessment and targeted towards enabling future pilot and demonstration projects.

Current projects

Funded by the SNSF and NRP70, this project aims to develop a risk governance framework for geo- and hydro-energy by integrating risk assessment (in its various forms) and related risk perception models and tools. This should lead to a communication strategy for future energy-related projects. This project develops a holistic concept of risk governance from a truly multi-disciplinary perspective, advocating a broad picture of risk: not only does it include risk assessment and assessment of ability to recover, but it also looks at how risk perception and risk-related communication can be organized. Investigated risks are induced seismicity and accidents for deep geothermal projects and accidents for hydropower projects, with a focus on rare extreme events.

Duration: November 2014 to October 2017

Project website

The SED aims to support the involved authorities and industries in establishing uniform quality standards across cantonal borders regarding earthquake-related issues, approval procedures, and project implementation. With this aim in mind, the SED offers competent, project-based seismological consulting and monitoring services through the GEOBEST-CH project (successor of GEOBEST), supported by SwissEnergy.

Duration: May 2015 to August 2017

Project flyer

Moving toward a safer and more resilient society requires improved and standardized tools for hazard and risk assessment of rare extreme events, and their systematic application to whole classes of critical infrastructures, targeting integrated risk mitigation strategies. Among the most important assessment tools are the stress tests, designed to test the vulnerability and resilience of individual critical infrastructures and infrastructure systems. Following the results of the stress tests recently performed by the European Commission for the European Nuclear Power Plants, it is urgent to carry out appropriate stress tests for all other classes of critical infrastructures, which is the research topic of the STREST project funded by the European Commission. Swiss dams are one of the infrastructures considered in STREST, based on collaboration between ETHZ IfG, ETHZ D-BAUG and EPFL.

Duration: October 2013 to September 2016

Project website

RT-RAMSIS is a joint CTI project between the Swiss Seismological Service SED and GeoEnergie Suisse AG. It builds on research results from previous joint research projects GEOSIM and GEOBEST. We are developing and validating a near real time hazard and risk assessment framework for induced seismicity in geothermal projects. With fluid injection rates and micro-earthquakes recorded in near real-time and prepared as input, the framework uses statistical and hybrid statistical-hydromechanical models to forecast seismicity in six hour intervals. Subsequent stages then compute probabilistic seismic hazard and risk estimates based on different injection scenarios and thereby help the operator to balance risk and reservoir stimulation efficiency.

Core research activities in this project are in the development of fast, reliable and precise micro-earthquake detection algorithms and in the enhancement and validation of statistical and mechanical seismic forecast models.

Duration: May 2015 to April 2018

The RIGOROuS project aims at examining cross-technology and spatial tradeoffs of multiple risks created by electricity portfolios in Switzerland. It focuses both on developing a new scientific approach to synthesizing risk knowledge and on enabling interactive knowledge exchange among scientists, stakeholders and the public. For this purpose, two interactive tools Riskmeters (basic and spatially-explicit versions) are being developed, tested and applied. These tools map out cross-technology and spatial risk tradeoffs of Swiss electricity portfolios. The portfolios are constructed using the electricity system model EXPANSE (EXploration of PAtterns in Near-optimal energy ScEnarios). Riskmeters are then used to measure public, stakeholder and expert preferences for the electricity portfolios in light of risk tradeoffs.

Duration: July 2015 – June 2018

This project is aimed at creating EGS reservoirs with sufficient permeability, fracture orientation and spacing for economic use of underground heat. The concepts are based on experience in previous projects, on scientific progress and developments in other fields, mainly the oil and gas sector. Recently developed stimulation methods will be adapted to geothermal needs, applied to new geothermal sites and prepared for the market uptake. Understanding of risks in each area (whether technological, in business processes, for particular business cases, or otherwise), risk ownership, and possible risk mitigation will be the scope of specific work packages.  The DESTRESS concept takes into account the common and specific issues of different sites, representative for large parts of Europe, and will provide a generally applicable workflow for productivity enhancement measures. The main focus will be on stimulation treatments with minimized environmental hazard (“soft stimulation”), to enhance the reservoir in several geological settings covering granites, sandstones, and other rock types. It will include business cases including public debate. Industrial participation is particularly pronounced in DESTRESS, including large energy suppliers as well as SMEs in the process of developing their sites.

Duration: 2016 – 2020

Past projects

The CCES-funded GEOTHERM project (2009-2012) was conceived to provide scientific support to the Basel EGS project. GEOTHERM-2 continues the work begun in GEOTHERM. GEOTHERM-2 is designed to (1) develop and test novel observational tools for the geomechanics of reservoir creation; to (2) assess and mitigate the risks associated with noticeable induced seismicity; to (3) assess potential accidental risks leading to health and environmental impacts as well as public perceptions of risks associated with geothermal energy development and develop strategies for communicating the risks; (4) expand a multi-scale – multi-process modeling code for simulating the process of reservoir generation as well as the longer-term evolution of the reservoir during production, to (5) investigate the effects of chemical reaction between fluid and rock on long-term permeability evolution and heat extraction from the fractured geothermal reservoir, and to (6) design a decision-support tool for optimizing the use of geothermal energy in cities, by quantifying all interacting factors including geological and economic parameters, conversion efficiency and temporal heat storage, complementary energy sources and societal acceptance.

Duration: May 2013 to April 2016

Project website

The Swiss Seismological Service (SED) is implementing the GeoBest project on behalf of the SFOE to provide cantonal and federal authorities with guidelines on how to handle seismic hazard in the framework of the environmental risk assessment. Within GEOBEST, selected pilot projects in Switzerland are supported in the necessary seismic monitoring of natural and induced seismicity. GeoBest supports the pilot project in the first two years that are most critical with respect to the financial risk, by providing seismological instrumentation from the GeoBest instrument pool and partial financial support for the installation and operation of the seismic monitoring network. In return the pilot projects grant SED access to project data needed for seismic hazard assessment and the development of best practice guidelines.

Duration: October 2010 to December 2015

Project website

Switzerland is estimated to have an enormous potential for deep geothermal energy, capable of providing up to 30 % of the total electricity demand of Switzerland. Therefore, geothermal energy is expected to play a significant role for the long-term security of base load electricity supplies. In order to tap this potential in Switzerland and elsewhere, it is imperative to develop reliable methods and tools for the estimation of the seismic hazard of induced seismicity in real time. Project GEOSIM, funded by SFOE, develops the methods, algorithms and software tools that are required for the realization of industry pilot projects, planned from 2014 onwards.

Duration: August 2012 to March 2015

Figure: The various aspects of Task 4.1, its team, projects, and interactions with other groups and projects.