With immense geothermal potential, Mexico could see more development

Los Azufres III, Phase 1 (Unit 17) geothermal power plant, Mexico (source: ThinkGeoEnergy, creative commons)
Alexander Richter Alexander Richter 4 Mar 2019

An article published in Mexico, highlights the immense untapped geothermal energy potential in Mexico and draws a carefully optimistic picture of further development.

An article published today highlights the immense potential for geothermal energy distributed across Mexico and draws an optimistic picture for further development.

Being an oil country has prevented Mexico from betting on renewable energies and taking advantage of the great potential that these represent.

“Mexico was and is an oil producing country. Six decades ago not gambled both the renewable energy and much less for geothermal ” he said in an exclusive interview My Press the doctor, Edgar Rolando Santoyo Gutierrez , head of the Department of Energy Systems Institute of Renewable Energies of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (IER-UNAM). The immense potential of geothermal energy distributed in the national territory began to be exploited in 1959.

Six decades after having begun with the exploitation of geothermal energy in Mexico, says the chemical engineer, the characteristics of the Mexican geothermal systems still have much to offer, large amounts of potential to be exploited: “Exploitation has been constant since that time; nevertheless, there is an immense geothermal potential distributed throughout the entire territory.”

The geothermal resources of Mexico are exploited through some 230 production wells (between 1,500 and 3,500 meters deep); the national installed capacity is 931 MWe.

What began with an experimental prototype built in Pathé (Hidalgo) developed to commercial exploitation: “These projects have been successful and have placed Mexico at different levels of importance. For many years, the country ranked third international level in terms of the exploitation of geothermal resources for generation.” In 2019, Mexico is in sixth place, behind the United States, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, and New Zealand.

Data published by the Mexican Center for Innovation in Geothermal Energy (CeMIE-Geo) indicate that the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) operates 4 hydrothermal geothermal fields whose installed capacity was approximately 931 MW in 2016, enough to provide electricity to 2 million average Mexican households; Grupo Dragón, a Mexican private operator of the Domo San Pedro (Nayarit) field, has a capacity of 10 MWe.

Figures handled in 2018 by engineer Luis Alberto Valdez Jacobo, from CFE Generación VI, suggest that the Mexican geothermal potential is 13.4 GW; of these, said engineer David Alejandro Rocha Ruiz, then technical coordinator of geothermal energy in the Secretariat of Energy, less than 1 percent is used. Another important figure is the generation of electricity by geothermal technology in 2017: 6,041 GWh, that is, 1.84% of the total generation of electricity in the nation.

Regarding possibilities to increase the installed capacity at the national level, the researcher of CeMIE-Geo explained to My Press: “It is expected that in the coming years this generation will increase substantially through the construction of other commercial projects in the same fields (Los Azufres, Los Humeros, Cerro Prieto, Tres Vírgenes, Domo de San Pedro …), as well as in some new sites where important plants are being planned, such as the Ceboruco volcano (Nayarit) or Cerritos Colorados (Jalisco)).”.

Dr. Santoyo Gutiérrez, specialized in research administration and PhD in thermal energy from the University of Salford, said: ” In recent years a lot of studies have been done in many areas of the country, they are located around one thousand five hundred thermal zones or foci throughout the territory, of which there are identified between twenty and thirty sites with a high possibility of exploitation , with possibilities to exploit on a large commercial scale, among these, we can talk about places in the peninsula of Baja California , the states of Jalisco , Puebla , Guanajuato , Michoacán , Nayarit, among others ” .

There are also other sites and new actors are adding to the exploitation of the huge potential of geothermal energy distributed in Mexican territory: “Now, with the new geothermal energy law, and the energy reform, new concessions have been opened, as a result , the creation of some companies interested in generating electricity, not only CFE. Historically, the CFE is the only one that had been in charge of exploiting the resources. There are already 12 or 13 companies that are looking to begin to exploit resources in greater or lesser scale in these places of the republic.”

Not only Mexico must overcome its role and stigma of oil country if it wants to take advantage of the huge potential of geothermal energy that has, likewise, emphasized the president of the scientific association National Institute of Geochemistry during the interview, it is necessary to train more specialized human resources , because currently most of the geothermal energy specialists in the country are between 50 and 60 years old. In this sense, Dr. Edgar Rolando Santoyo Gutiérrez acknowledged the work of the IER-UNAM.