With a potential of up to 3,500 MW geothermal is a competitive option in Chile

Transformers at the Cerro Pabellon project site, Chile (source: ILS)
Alexander Richter 8 Feb 2017

Despite a potential of up to 3,500 MW, geothermal energy is currently playing an only limited part in Chile. The expected start of operation of the country's first geothermal power plant at Cerro Pabellon could change things.

With a geothermal potential estimated at 2,440 to 3,500 MW, Chile presents a big opportunity despite limited development and currently no operating geothermal power plant.

The first and only geothermal project at the moment, is the Cerro Pabellón project by Enel Green Power, which is expected to start operation in March 2017.

The Chilean Ministry of Energy recently held a workshop to discuss the potential and opportunities of Geothermal in the country.

One of the most important results of the latest power supply tender (July 2016) is the competitiveness and potential of new technologies URE. Geothermal, pumped storage and solar CSP – all 24/7 generation – although not awarded, were on average cheaper than offers based exclusively on natural gas or coal.

Currently, there are 24 countries producing geothermal energy, reaching a total installed power of 12,600 MW approx. (10,800 MW of Flash Plants and 1,800 MW of Binary Plants). Chile could join this trend. The Chilean geothermal potential rises from 2,440 to 3,500 MW, considering other less explored projects that could be developed in 20 years.

With this information it should not be difficult to say that geothermal technology is an opportunity for Chile. It is an own resource, able to provide energy in a reliable and stable in the long term; It produces energy at a relatively low and competitive cost compared to other generation sources such as coal and gas; It is a mature technology, proven worldwide, with more than a century of implementation; It allows diversifying the sources of electricity supply and reducing the risk of potential price increases due to the costs of other fuels.

Furthermore, it is clean energy both in operation and in the construction phase, with a plant factor of 95% and a reduced environmental impact.

“We must be convinced that the development of geothermal energy in Chile is viable. Its attributes, both in terms of sustainability and quality of supply are in sight and should be valued. It is for this reason that I chair Geothermal Council is promoting initiatives that help stimulate their development , “said Gonzalo Torres, President of the Geothermal Council.

Recently, the three Associations in charge of promoting the development of geothermal energy in the country – The Chilean Association of Geothermal Energy (ACHEGEO), the Geothermal Council and the Chilean Association of Renewable Energies (ACERA) – met with the Minister of Energy, Andrés Rebolledo, precisely to reinforce Chile’s strong potential and seek the best opportunities to promote it as a relevant option for the country.

Allendes Fernando, President of ACHEGEO noted in this regard that “instances of dialogue between the main players in the sector are the basis for the development of the geothermal industry in our country. On this occasion, we had the opportunity to share with Minister Rebolledo our wishes and challenges, which were appreciated very positively. As an industry we consider that, taking the necessary measures, geothermal energy will contribute to the country not only with competitive prices, security of supply, protection of the environment and generation of permanent employment, but above all with a national energy resource.

One of the interests of the entities representing this sector was the formation of a Geothermal Table, whose main objectives were the evaluation of the benefits of this technology in the national electric matrix, where public policies could be defined around it, in addition Of possible incentives to stimulate their development.

The initiative was well received by the Ministry of Energy, which launched this table in late 2016, where authorities and organizations such as ACHEGEO, the Geothermal Council, the Center of Excellence in Geothermal Energy of the Andes (CEGA) and ACERA Among others, in addition to Christian Santana, Head of the Division of Renewable Energies of the Ministry of Energy.

In this regard, the Executive Director of ACERA, Carlos Finat , said “we believe that a thorough and objective analysis regarding the benefits of geothermal energy for Chile is needed. The creation of a working table, led by the Ministry of Energy, with the participation of industry, academia and government is undoubtedly the best way to obtain a useful result for all.

From ACERA, we look with great confidence at the results that this initiative could deliver, so that a real boost can be generated for the development of geothermal energy in a country like ours, which has an enviable potential in this sustainable, constant technology And competitive to meet the electricity demand. In the same way, together with ACHEGEO and the Geothermal Council we will continue working to make it so.

Geothermal Projects in Chile

Cerro Pavilion, company Enel Green Power with ENAP, is the most advanced geothermal project in Chile. At present, the 48 MW plant (two units of 24 MW each) and the power line of 80 km approx. is under construction. The project is located in the Atacama Desert, at an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level, 120 km from Calama.

Another geothermal project that is looking to move forward is Mariposa, by the Energy Development Corporation (EDC), which is located in the Maule Region, 110 km from Talca. The project has already invested $50 million in its development and its next phase of development is exploration / production wells.