The potential of geothermal energy for energy transition is increasingly recognized by governments around the world. Whether geothermal energy is a sustainable source of heat and/or electricity depends on how it is deployed in specific contexts. Therefore, it is striking that there is only limited attention to geothermal energy from a social science and humanities (SSH) perspective. Geothermal energy is largely conceptualized as a technological and/or geological issue in both science and practice. This perspective article aims to go beyond such conceptualizations by positioning social science research as an important lens to explore the promises and pitfalls of geothermal energy. We first provide an overview of the current state of geothermal energy as a decarbonization strategy. Second, we move on to review the existing literature. This review shows that studies that do address geothermal energy from an SSH perspective tend to be of a descriptive nature and lack analytical diversity. Third, we discuss three complementary theoretical approaches that are used in the social sciences to observe and address other forms of energy and energy transition. We believe that socio-technical assemblages, systems, and imaginaries can provide fruitful analytical lenses to study the promises, pitfalls and spatialization of geothermal energy. We conclude the paper with a research agenda and call for further engagement with this topic in SSH research, with attention to specificities of global South and North contexts.
Read the full article, open access: Out of steam? A social science and humanities research agenda for geothermal energy