How geothermal can help Chile in decarbonization efforts

How geothermal can help Chile in decarbonization efforts Geothermal potential of Chile, infographic snapshot (source: CEGA)
Alexander Richter 8 May 2021

Geothermal energy can play a significant role in Chile's decarbonization efforts both in geothermal power generation and direct use for heat.

While things have been seemingly quiet about geothermal energy development in Chile, despite the start and ongoing expansion of the Cerro Pabellon geothermal power plant in the Andes, there are ongoing efforts in utilisising the large geothermal resources of the country, as described in this article by Diálogo Chino.

Chile seeks to take advantage of the potential of geothermal energy, with an estimated potential of 3,800MW and accelerate the decarbonization process of its energy matrix.

There are today more than 43,000 hectares granted for numerous concessions for new geothermal energy projects. Today, various small projects, among others a school and greenhouses, are using geothermal energy, but this scratches only the surface of what is possible for a broader deployment of geothermal energy across Chile.

Like in many other countries, Chile has set ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Today the vast majority or nearly 80% are generated by the energy sector, which most of it being represented by emissions of coal-fired power plants. The government has announced plans to shut down all coal-fired power plants by 2040 and replace them with new sources of clean energy. How far geothermal energy can play a role will have to be seen. As a baseload source of energy it is certainly attractive, while the locations of the most favourable geothermal resources are often a bit far away from the centers of the country with the most energy demand.

“Geothermal energy is a constant energy resource in the face of climatic and seasonal fluctuations, so there is undoubtedly an opportunity for development, as well as other renewable sources,” said Rubén Muñoz, head of the geothermal unit of the Ministry of Energy of Chile.

The history of geothermal use in Chile dates back already to 1908, though there still is a need for further development of regulation and policy. There are still market hurdles and no real legal framework to govern geothermal. It seems this is particularly the case with any direct use applications for geothermal use. The congress of Chile is though moving forward with a bill that would  see the specific programs for the wider use of geothermal energy in the country.

There are some interesting projects, among them the Valle Verde Education and Work center in the Aysén region. One of several projects with the Geothermal Center of Excellence in the Andes at the University of Chile (CEGA), it is a social project that houses prisoners as part of a rehabilitation program. Among other things, it features 11 greenhouses that produce lettuce, chard, coriander, parsley, chives, radishes and beets. The produce  is then sold to local businesses, residents and producers.

The greenhouses are heated by geothermal energy from a high pressure well tapping into hot water from the underground and even produce some electricity.

Another project described is a school that had relied on firewood for heating and is now utilising geothermal providing heat and constant temperature for classrooms.

The Cerro Pabellon geothermal power plant is the only geothermal power plant in Chile and is currently expanding its capacity. There are various other projects and hopefully we can write about them in future articles here on ThinkGeoEnergy.

Cerro Pabellon geothermal power plant, Chile (source: ThinkGeoEnergy)

It is great to see the continued work and dedication by Diego Morata and his team at CEGA to promote geothermal energy, what it has to offer and prove it in concrete projects.

Chile – Geothermal Potential, infographic full (source: CEGA)

Source: Diálogo Chino