Interview: Ormat on its high-altitude geothermal project in Chile

Interview: Ormat on its high-altitude geothermal project in Chile Harsh environment near Cerro Pabellón project site, Chile (source: Ormat)
Alexander Richter 9 Oct 2015

In an interview with ThinkGeoEnergy, Ormat provides some details on the challenges faced by the Cerro Pabellón project in Chile due to the high altitude.

In May this year it was announced that Ormat has won an EPC contract for the Cerro Pabellon geothermal project in Chile. Enel Green Power has since come forward and given some details about the project.

With over 50 years of experience, Ormat has so far installed over 2,000 MW in over 150 plants worldwide. Therefore, it is no surprise that Ormat has been chosen for this project. But we wanted to know a little bit more, so we contacted Ormat to see if they could shed a bit more light on the deal and the planned plant.

Could you provide us with a little background on Ormat’s role in the project and what it entails?

Ormat has been chosen as an EPC contractor for the Cerro Pabellon geothermal power plant in Chile. This means all design and engineering, manufacturing, supply, construction and start-up of the power plant are under Ormat’s responsibility.

We understand that due to the extreme conditions of the project site, that there are some challenges to overcome. Can you maybe explain a little what these challenges are and how the project wants to overcome those? 

The condition in Cerro Pabellon are indeed extreme; they include high altitude (over 4500m in this case), cold and extremely windy weather, and a remote location. Ormat was able to execute geothermal power plant projects in a location with even higher altitude more than 20 years ago; Nagqu is a 1 MW unit built for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Himalaya part of China in 1993. Still these extreme conditions are a challenge, and we believe Ormat is best placed to deal with them.

The first challenge – the effect of these conditions on the plant. In such altitude, we needed to design and choose the right equipment and materials that fit all the extreme conditions. The air is very thin which directly effects the plant’s air cooling abilities and the efficiency of the electrical equipment drops in high altitude. In order to mitigate these challenges, Ormat conducted meticulous calculations for the condenser and other electrical equipment and adjusted its configuration to fit these extreme conditions. In dealing with the weather, Ormat also has vast experience in designing power plants for such harsh conditions, as we have many power plants that work in in Canada and the Midwest part of the USA.

The second challenge – the effect of these conditions on the work force. Such high altitude requires an adjustment period and even once adjusted, people cannot stay up at 4500m for a long period of time. The project’s goal is to minimize the time for site construction; Ormat has an advantage as its binary power plants are built modularly with prefabricated components that are faster to construct.

Do you think that this project could signal an awakening for further development in Chile and other countries in the region?

Latin America has a huge geothermal potential, and recently there has been change in legislation and actions by different countries to support geothermal development. This will actually be the first significant geothermal project in South America, and we hope it will be the first of many to come.