Study confirms potential for geothermal electricity generation in Southern Chile
Initial surveys, carried out in the town of Puyuhuapi, Southern Chile by CEGA, determined that the areas near hot springs can successfully develop geothermal projects that allow them to stop depending on diesel or firewood.
Could it be that Puyuhuapi has a geothermal electric cogeneration plant? This is the premise with which researchers from the Los Andes Geothermal Center of Excellence (CEGA) began prospecting within the framework of a project financed by the Innovation Fund for Competitiveness (FIC), which today gives the first lights, demonstrating that there is sufficient potential to fully feed the town (of 300 inhabitants), also considering all its public and commercial services, such as educational, health, lighting, etc.
With the support of the Regional Government, CEGA is exploring the necessary conditions to develop a sustainable geothermal cogeneration plant, considering field studies, legal aspects and analyzing the community’s willingness to live with this technology.
For Nicolás Pérez, CEGA researcher and project coordinator, this initiative “represents a unique opportunity to understand a type of geothermal systems that is repeated throughout southern Chile by the Liquiñe-Ofqui Fault System, which crosses from the Aysén Region to the Biobío for about 1,000 kms., from the Andes Mountains. This study has a new perspective: it contemplates the opinion, needs and aspirations of the community from the beginning, in order to visualize a project that is coherent with the local environment and reality. In addition, it opens the doors for small-scale geothermal plants (1MW or less) that meet the local needs of isolated villages that currently depend on oil, something that has not been analyzed so far.
Regarding what electricity cogeneration means, Pérez indicates that “it is a process that, from the same resource, generates electricity and heat at the same time. It is much more efficient than producing separately, and it can stimulate the local economy since it allows the generation of greenhouses, firewood dryers, or it can even boost tourism by creating new private or communal thermal spas, promoting industrial development from small to large scale ”, among other scopes, such as firewood drying or food processing.
It is important to note that geothermal plants do not affect the flow or quality of the hot springs in their environment. The geothermal fluids used to generate electricity correspond to deposits much deeper than those that originate the thermal sources, and after being used to generate electricity, they are reinjected through reinforced pipes to avoid cross contamination, so they are not released to the surface. Currently, the CEGA team is evaluating the technical feasibility of developing this in Puyuhuapi.
The project ““ Feasibility of Geothermal Cogeneration in Puyuhuapi ”(FIC 2018) has an investment of $ 135 million from the Regional Government of Aysén, plus own contributions from CEGA, and a roadmap to publicize the aspects technical, economic, social, cultural and legal necessary for the development of a cogeneration plant in this locality to be feasible.