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  • 1 Iceland GeoSurvey (ÍSOR), Grensásvegur 9, IS-108, Reykjavík, Iceland
  • | 2 University of Iceland, Saemundargata 6, IS-101, Reykjavík, Iceland
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Abstract

Sustainable development involves meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The Earth's enormous geothermal resources have the potential to contribute significantly to sustainable energy use worldwide and to help mitigate climate change. Experience from the use of geothermal systems worldwide, lasting several decades, demonstrates that by maintaining production below a certain limit the systems reach a balance between net energy discharge and recharge that may be maintained for a long time. Therefore, a sustainability time-scale of 100 to 300 years has been proposed. Studies furthermore indicate that the effect of heavy utilization is often reversible on a time-scale comparable to the period of utilization. Geothermal resources can be used in a sustainable manner either through (1) constant production below a sustainable limit, (2) step-wise increase in production or (3) intermittent excessive production with breaks during which other geothermal resources need to fill in the gap. The long production histories that are available for geothermal systems provide the most valuable data available for studying sustainable management of geothermal resources, and reservoir modelling is the most powerful tool available for this purpose. The paper reviews long utilization experiences from e.g. Iceland, France and Hungary and presents sustainability modelling studies for the Hamar geothermal system in Iceland and the Beijing Urban system in China. International collaboration has facilitated sustainability research and fruitful discussions as well as identifying several relevant research issues. Distinction needs to be made between sustainable production from a particular geothermal resource and the more general sustainable geothermal utilization, which involves integrated economical, social and environmental development. Developing a sustainability policy involves setting general sustainability goals and consequently defining specific sustainability indicators to measure the degree of sustainability of a given geothermal operation or progress towards sustainability.

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