Five Takeaways from Hosting a Webinar on Geothermal Technologies
When an opportunity arose to moderate the quarterly webinar for the Department of Energy's Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO), I took it up enthusiastically. Since joining the office as a AAAS S&T Policy Fellow, I had attended two engaging webinars and knew having a more active role in these webinars would be an excellent way to learn more about my office and strengthen institutional knowledge. When I volunteered to host the webinar, my office offered enthusiastic support and confidence in my ability to do a great job.
The webinar, held on April 27 this year, aimed to provide timely information about research and development (R&D), funding opportunities, and awards in geothermal technology . Specifically, focus was placed on the clean electricity generation and direct use/heating and cooling/heat pumps spaces , including international partnerships and media highlights.
Geothermal energy is heat energy from the earth: geo (earth) + thermal (heat). Geothermal resources are reservoirs of hot water that exist or are human made at varying temperatures and depths below the Earth’s surface. Geothermal energy has several benefits:
(a) It is a renewable resource that is continually replenished in the Earth’s subsurface.
(b) It is clean energy with lower life cycle emissions compared to natural gas or solar photovoltaics.
(c) It is a baseload resource, so that geothermal power plants produce electricity consistently and can run essentially 24 hour per day, seven days per week, regardless of weather conditions. In addition, U.S. geothermal resources can be harnessed for power production without importing fuel and operate with a small land footprint making it an excellent domestic energy source.
The webinar catered to a broad audience of stakeholders, including academia, industry, state and public utility commissions and policymakers. As host for the 60-minute webinar, my role included the following:
- Start and open the webinar.
- Welcome and introduce the panel/speakers.
- Provide all the DOE and office-level updates.
- Invite program managers to speak about their specific programs (e.g., enhanced geothermal systems, hydrothermal resources, low-temperature resources, and data, modeling, and analysis).
- Moderate a live Q&A panel, including the office director.
- Close the webinar.
I learned five significant insights from my experience:
1. Stay calm
Although having a script was assuring to my nerves during the countdown days, I was surprised (and shocked!) to learn that 400+ people had registered for the webinar. I took comfort in the fact that even if the whole world was watching me, I wasn’t going to see anyone from my screen. An invisible audience is helpful sometimes.
2. Practice & familiarize yourself with the script.
3. Personalize the script by adding my own language, as needed.
4. Check for correct positioning, posture, and eye line with the camera and checking it with someone during practice sessions.
In addition to confirming camera readiness, having a stable internet connection during the webinar was foremost in my mind. With this in mind, I chose what I thought would be the safest spot and reserved a conference room in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) HQ office.
5. Practice pronunciation of people’s names, especially unfamiliar names.
I intended to sound confident and conversational, bringing energy, cadence, and clarity to my voice, especially around technical words, and people’s names. If you stumble on a word or get a cough in the middle, take a pause, and keep moving. It’s not a deal breaker. When reading from the script, I realized that focusing on a fluid delivery is key. Taking adequate pauses and sipping water frequently came in handy. My favorite part was the Q&A because it was dynamic and offered a chance to be conversational with the panel while directing questions to them.
I highly recommend STPF fellows pursue similar opportunities (in moderation), as it provides a deeper understanding of the workplace and increases visibility. It was a pleasant surprise to receive congratulations from colleagues even weeks after, both inside and outside the office. I am grateful for the support I received from the office communications team, my mentor, and my director. Given the chance, I would gladly do it again!
Geothermal heat pumps: Devices that take advantage of the relatively constant temperature of the Earth’s interior, using it as a source and sink of heat for both heating and cooling. When cooling, heat is extracted from the space and dissipated into the Earth; when heating, heat is extracted from the Earth and pumped into the space.
Direct use: Use of geothermal heat without first converting it to electricity, such for space heating and cooling, food preparation, industrial processes, etc.
District heating: A type of direct use in which a utility system supplies multiple users with hot water or steam from a central geothermal plant or well field.
Dr. Sudeep Kanungo is a 2022-23 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Geothermal Technologies Office, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy within the U.S. Department of Energy.
Acknowledgements: The author expresses gratitude to the GTO Communications team (Fatimah Alyas, Brooke Biber, Casey Rath, Coryne Tasca, and Elisabet Metcalfe) for their support and encouragement. This article improved considerably from initial suggestions made by co-fellow, Pradeep Prathibha, and a former colleague, Regina Eco, from the University of Utah.
Image: Volcano vent, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, by John W. Lund, NREL pix 13101
Note: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS or the United States government.