Celebrating 10 years of Chile’s Geothermal Center of Excellence for the Andes

Diego Morata at field trip with IGA's Board to Cerro Pabellon, Chile 2017 (source: ThinkGeoEnergy))
Alexander Richter 20 Nov 2020

The Chilean Center of Geothermal Excellence for the Andes celebrates its 10th anniversary and in this editiorial the center's director Diego Morata shares details on the history and the challenges for geothermal in Chile.

This month the Centro de Excelencia en Geotermia de Los Andes (CEGA), the Geothermal Center of Excellence for the Andes, celebrated its tenth anniversary.

In an article in local publication La Tercera, the Center’s Director Diego Morata Céspedes at the University of Chile describes the history.

It was at the end of 2010 when we were informed that we were one of the proposals selected for financing by the program of the Fund for Financing Research Centers in Priority Areas (FONDAP) of the former CONICYT (now ANID ). During this decade we have matured, and that initial idea of ??taking advantage of the heat of the Earth – which the volcanoes of our Andes Mountains provide us so generously for electricity generation – matured and took shape, until it was the main reason for research. from our center.

It has been a long road, not without obstacles and stones, but if a geologist knows something to do, it is to look at those stones from another perspective, recognize the opportunities they offer and, ultimately, take advantage of the benefits they can bring us.

If you look back, you can see how Chile has changed in these ten years. Chilean society is not the same and, therefore, the way of approaching science available to society should not be done today as it was proposed a decade ago. In addition, in these years we have been able to see how geothermal energy in Chile became the energy solution that some newspapers promised to be today the most reliable renewable energy we have, the only one that can guarantee electricity supply 24 hours a day, the only one that can really be considered basic energy, the only one that can also be used directly to supply heat and allow heating of homes, schools and greenhouses, but also the most neglected of all renewables and the one with the least marketing and advertising displays. And it is not because there are no geothermal resources in our long and narrow country. Quite the opposite.

The geothermal energy is renewable energy more democratic than we have in our country. We have geothermal resources throughout our territory, from Arica to Punta Arenas, both for the generation of electricity and for its direct use. But, as incredible as it may seem, we only have one electricity generation plant in our Norte Grande: Cerro Pabellón, in the Alta Cordillera, at 4200 m above sea level and with a 48 MW clean and sustainable energy generation, with a plan expansion of an additional 33 MW over the next year.

The CEGA has been an actor and direct witness of this paradigm shift with respect to the generation of electricity through geothermal energy. Our research has contributed to a better understanding of the different geological controls of the Andean geothermal systems.

We have implemented first-rate analytical laboratories. We introduced the concept of the direct use of geothermal energy to improve the quality of life of our fellow citizens and we even implemented some pilot projects in southern Chile, where we are demonstrating that it is possible to have fresh lettuce in geothermal greenhouses in Puerto Aysén or to take out wood stoves in classrooms, such as the projects implemented in Coyhaique and Curacautín. We have also generated a different way of bringing science in general and geothermal energy in particular closer to our indigenous communities, understanding their worldview and making them participants in these demonstration projects. Finally, we have contributed to creating a different way of spreading geothermal energy to our society.

Many of these achievements have been recognized internationally and, today, Chile can proudly say that – thanks to the funding of the Fondap program of ANID (ex-Conicyt) – it has a Geothermal Research Center of Excellence, with high international recognition and that geothermal energy in Chile. Both the generation of electricity and its direct use had a before and after the CEGA. As the director of this dream, I am very proud to have had the privilege of guiding you through this decade. We still have an additional year of funding from ANID. After? Nobody knows. The state financing of this successful center will end, training dozens of professionals, geologists and engineers, all passionate about geothermal energy, a new generation that will be trained and in a position to change the outlook of generating electricity in our country.

I believe that we have more than fulfilled the task that Fondap placed in us: to do first-level science so that geothermal energy – that source of energy, sustainable and friendly to the environment – is installed and implanted definitively in our country. It has been ten years, but we must keep our eyes on 10, 20 or 50 more years. The future is geothermal yes or yes. It is a matter of looking at Europe and other OECD countries. The benefits and scope of geothermal energy have multiplied, and in those countries that we admire and with which we generally like to compare ourselves, geothermal energy, both for the generation of electricity and for its direct use, has been installed as a viable energy alternative.

Of course, in Chile improvements must be made and we still have a way to go. The costs of implementation and the uncertainty inherent in this energy source must be reduced . However, when these obstacles are contrasted with the tremendous social, environmental and energy sovereignty impact that geothermal energy supposes, one can realize that betting on geothermal energy is the right way to go for a sustainable future. Today is the time to look at what has been built, but at the same time to have enough vision to draw a future more linked to the heat of our Earth.

Source: La Tercera

Note: I had the pleasure to visit CEGA in 2017 with the group of the IGA Board of Directors on invitation by Diego Morata. We even got a special tour to the Cerro Pabellon geothermal power plant in the North of the country. Thanks again to Diego and his team for the fantastic time we had.