Studying the geothermal energy in Brazil – interview with Hélène Hofmann

Studying the geothermal energy in Brazil – interview with Hélène Hofmann Laying foundations at the CICS LIVING LAB geothermal Project at University of São Paulo, 2019 (source: H. Hofmann)
Alexander Richter 18 May 2020

In this interview, Hélène Hofmann from I Care & Consult tells us about the potential of low enthalpy geothermal energy in Brazil and the projects they are developing in the country.

PiensaGeotermia interviewed HélèneHofmann about the work they are doing in developing low enthalpy geothermal energy in Brazil. We usually do not hear news regarding the use of geothermal energy in Brazil and we are glad that progress is being made in its development.

Hélène Hofmann and her work at the company I Care & Consult

I am a French engineer whose main ambition is to participate in our energy transition towards a low energy impact society. After several years working in the surface geothermal sector (shallow geothermal) in France, I decided two years ago to move to Brazil, in order to promote environmentally friendly energy solutions, such as geothermal energy.

This is how I joined the team at I Care & Consult, a French consulting and innovation firm that supports private companies, financial institutions and public organizations to design their environmental strategy. As part of its development in Brazil, I Care & Consult decided to support my project by offering to lead a strategic study on the potential of surface geothermal energy in Brazil.

About the geothermal study in Brazil

The study, which started in April 2019 and led by I Care & Consult, also included the participation of researchers from the Polytechnic School of São Paulo and the Groundwater Research Center of the University of São Paulo , and also from the Geothermal Laboratory of the National Observatory of Brazil. They will support us in evaluating the geothermal resources of the South and Southeast regions of Brazil and in analyzing their compatibility with the thermal needs of buildings with less energy impact.

We divided the study into three phases

  • In the first phase we made a general review of the technology in the world, of its use in more than 50 countries and identified the key to the success of the development of the technology, its barriers and the different incentives that have been implemented. We also carry out a complete analysis of the Brazilian energy sector, and of the evolution of the thermal energy needs of the buildings sector and the industrial sector.
    We find that many regions of the world with a similar climate to the south and southeast of Brazil such as Florida (USA) or Australia have been developing shallow geothermal energy for space conditioning, in addition to heating applications. In fact, technology has shown high energy efficiency compared to conventional air conditioning systems, using the ground as a heat sink instead of air. In addition, thanks to strong government support, China recently became the technology leader against the United States with growth in installed capacity of + 20% / year. Also, Brazil’s heating needs represent 80% of the industry’s energy consumption and HVAC needs are likely to explode according to the projections of the International Energy Agency. Although Brazil has a relatively clean energy matrix, it must develop clean solutions to meet the growing thermal demand.
  • In the second phase, we focus on the development potential of technology in Brazil. A researcher at Poli-USP has specially led a series of energy simulations to evaluate the energy, water and cost savings related to the operation of a geothermal air conditioning system that operates instead of a conventional air conditioning system for 6 types of buildings (Hotel , Office Building, Shopping Center, Hospital, collective and individual housing) in the 7 capitals of the South and Southeast regions. The National Observatory also mapped the underground thermal conductivities of the two regions, and CEPAS-USP had mapped the groundwater resources. We also analyze the supply chain of the sector in Brazil, the regulatory context for the implementation of technology and estimate its cost.The results of the energy simulations revealed significant savings in the operating costs of the geothermal solution, with savings in many cases greater than 50%. We were surprised that water savings, due to the use of conventional cooling towers, represented more than half of the economies associated with operating costs in many cases. Furthermore, we found that the southern regions were favourable for the development of geothermal well plants thanks to the dominance in the regions of crystalline rocks with high thermal conductivities and cheaper drilling techniques than for sedimentary rocks.
  • In the third phase , we analyze the barriers to technology development and propose a series of recommendations for technology deployment. As an example, we recommend creating an incentive focused on thermal efficiency since today the main Brazilian incentives focus on electrical efficiency.

Geological context and thermal conductivity in the southern region of Brazil
Main opportunities for Brazil

We calculate that by converting only 1% of heating and air conditioning systems with geothermal solutions in the industrial and building sectors, it will save around 163 ktoe of energy annually, 552 thousand tons of CO2 equivalent, in  addition to 1.3 million cubic meters of water, considering 2018 as a reference in terms of energy consumption and not even counting the significant demand for cooling in the industry and the demand for hot water in buildings.
The technology is specially adapted to the food and beverage industrythanks to the typology of its thermal demand, that is, the need for heating and cooling in a compatible temperature range. In the building sector, technology is particularly interesting for commercial buildings, shopping malls or hotels, allowing annual savings in operating costs for air conditioning that reach 60% in some regions, such as in the city of Sao Paulo.

Average Reduction of Operation Costs with geothermal air conditioning (Simulation Results)
Ongoing projects

There is a pilot project underway at the University of Sao Paulo to meet the heating and cooling needs of the new Center for Innovation in Sustainable Construction (CICS-USP). The implementation of a geothermal plant in a Coca-Cola factory in the state of Rio de Janeiro is also being evaluated to meet its cooling needs.

Photograph taken during the execution of a thermal response test to determine the thermal properties of the subsoil at the Coca-Cola Andean Factory


More information about the study is in the following video

I Care & Consult in Latin America

As part of our study, we have identified few countries in Latin America where technology is present. Chile is the only country with a mature geothermal market, while the technology has recently started its development in Mexico and Argentina. It would be interesting to conduct similar studies in these countries to accelerate their development, as well as in other countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay or Colombia where there seems to be great potential.

Contact Hélène Hofmann: [email protected] /

Source: interview with Helen Hofmann through our Spanish language platform PiensaGeotermia