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Opinion: Geothermal in report on public account of Chile’s Ministry of Energy 2019-2020

View over Santiago/ Chile (source: flickr/ Jorge Láscar, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 18 Jun 2020

Diego Morata, Director of CEGA in Chile, points to the low relevance of geothermal energy in the Public Account of the Ministry of Energy, released in May 2020, finding the country in a process of decarbonization and extreme drought.

Diego Morata, Director of the Center of Excellence in Geothermal Energy of Los Andes (CEGA) , shares his opinion column published in LaTercera on May 27, where he refers to geothermal energy in the annual public account of the Ministry of Energy From Chile.

“Last Friday, May 15, we attended virtually the presentation of the Participatory Public Account of the Ministry of Energy 2019-2020, headed by the Minister of Energy Juan Carlos Jobet. It was a good republican exercise in which our Energy Minister highlighted the main achievements in this area in the last year, and where for one more year, Chile’s most stable renewable energy, geothermal energy, was practically invisible.

The progress of the seven thematic axes of the Energy Route shows good progress towards an increasingly clean matrix, but there are still many mysteries to be solved. Chile opted for the decarbonisation of its energy matrix, that is, the coal-fired thermoelectric plants that generate almost 5000 MWe must be dismantled and replaced by renewable energy. This is a great challenge as a country and, in fact, it was announced at the last COP that before 2025 Chile will close 25% of the existing coal-fired plants. And it is a decision that should be applauded, but one that invites an immediate question: with which renewable energy source are those coal-generated black MWe to be replaced?

2025 is a very close tomorrow. Coal allows the generation of electricity 24/7, and therefore gives stability to the energy matrix. So what renewable energy has that 24/7 quality that can fill that space it leaves, and will leave in the coal once it leaves our matrix? Let’s analyze some of the data presented in the public account to see if you can have an answer to that question that seems obvious.

Today NCREs generate just over 20% of the electricity consumed in Chile. If we consider large hydroelectric plants, it can be affirmed that 47% of the electricity it consumes in Chile comes from renewable and clean energy. Then 53% comes from fossil fuels in their different forms.

As much as I do the calculations and see the report of the Minister, I cannot find how, with the current panorama, the climatic uncertainty that invites us to think that hydroelectricity may not generate the energy to which we are accustomed, and the current energy policy We can replace coal (not to mention replacing all fossil fuels!) with renewables.

In the same public account, it is indicated that we will continue betting on solar energy, and this bet seems evident when we know that our Big North is one of the areas with the most solar radiation on the planet. But will it be logical to put all the eggs in one basket? Basket that, in addition, we know that it does not allow stability to the system since today it is not an efficient technology to generate electricity 24/7.

Why is geothermal systematically forgotten? We know that our country is capable of generating electricity with this renewable source that we have under our feet. Cerro Pabellón has already demonstrated this with the first 48 MWe of South America. So what is it that the State does not commit to massively developing our geothermal resources?

The public account is betting that by 2020 the geothermal legislation will be modernized, but is that the boost that our marginalized geothermal really needs for its great takeoff? Why is it announced that a strategy will be launched to promote green hydrogen (which is still in an embryonic phase worldwide) and is not betting on a renewable, safe and stable source such as geothermal energy? I have nothing against any energy source that gives security to our country, but the systematic silence of our geothermal energy does not invite us to be very optimistic.

It is true that there is encouraging news in this public account for the direct use of geothermal energy, but that will be the reason for another column. The carbon neutral goal by 2050, with the consequent reduction of the feared GHG and the withdrawal of coal-fired power plants, must be based on the great potential of renewable energies that we have and, in this spectrum of replacement of that black way of generating electricity for our country for a clean and stable must consider our NCRE and, among them, geothermal energy must become the one that ensures stability to our electrical system ”.

Disclaimer: the author of this note is the Director of the Los Andes Center of Excellence in Geothermal Energy (CEGA) and academic of the Geology Department of the FCFM – University of Chile *

Source: Press release Diego Morata – CEGA – via our Spanish language platform PiensaGeotermia