Spaniard eco- neighbourhood chooses geothermal energy to put itself at the forefront of environmental care

Tuesday, 05 de September
  • The Galician city of Ourense has set out to rehabilitate one of its main neighborhoods through energy efficiency and environmental care. Geothermal energy will me the main protagonist of this initiative, thanks to the natural hot springs of the area that will allow to heat about 30 public buildings. With this project the locality hopes to become an ecological benchmark at the level of the European Union. CEGA spoke with the project’s leader.


More than 70 pools and hot springs flowing through Ourense have positioned it as one of the most important thermal cities in Europe. For centuries, this fantastic natural feature has been used in a touristic and recreational way, through relaxing and medicinal bathing. Because, what can be better than a good hot bath? Well, to add on top of that a nice warm office, an acclimated house, and all these energized with the natural heat of the waters: taking direct advantage of geothermal energy. Because unlike most of the thermal zones of the world, Ourense will not be limited to take advantage of the heat of its waters for recreation, as they have built a robust plan to save money and depollute the city with geothermal energy.


The objective will be to develop district heating, using direct thermal sources that generally reach temperatures around 70ºC. The city council expects to connect more than 30 public buildings to the system and favor the energy savings of 20,000 neighbors in the sector. In addition, the eco-plan contemplates improvement of public lighting and sustainable transport for city council vehicles and urban buses, in order to make the city a continental reference for environmental care, but the example went further, and from CEGA in Chile we are attentive to the development of this project, because the characteristics of Ourense are similar geographically and climatically to that of our local region of Aysén, from where a couple of years ago we sought to encourage the use of geothermal energy as a pilot experience for the rest of the country.


CEGA spoke with the Director General of the EnergyLab Technological Center, Juan Rodríguez, who along with his institution is in charge of carrying out the development of the preliminary project for Ourense. The Center will operate as technical advisors of the public administration in the development of this plan that is projected to start implementation in about five years. As basal knowledge for starting the project, the team has studies on the hydrogeological potential of the area carried out by the University of Vigo.


What is the value of experiences like the Ourense’s eco-neighborhood project?

“It is estimated that between 60% and 80% of greenhouse gases originate in cities. This project seeks to mobilize funds to carry out a project that serves as a reference for the European Union. We also want to highlight the importance of making the most of the renewable resources of each place. We are aware that not all sites have the geothermal resource that Ourense has, but each sector has its resources, and with this we want to highlight which natural resources are locally exploitable”.


What has been the penetration of geothermal energy as an alternative in Spain?

Initially, a minimum commitment was required by the public administration through the granting of subsidies, demonstrative projects where facilities can be seen working and where  the coefficients of operation are the expected or higher. The public administration needs to be convinced that this is necessary and that conviction may be by force. In the case of Spain, the country received a fine from the European Union for not complying with the conditions to lower its emissions. Because while improving the quality of life, lower emissions and generate new market niches should be of country interest, the incentive for change through an economic fine was important.


Rodríguez, who has been working on several demonstration projects promoted by the Autonomous Government of Galicia and private companies since 2008, is surprised by the information that Chile has no subsidies or specific benefits for the development and use of geothermal energy. The fact that Spain today can have cost-effective facilities without the need for subsidies (although they still exist and are still necessary) is due to the fact that initial state incentives have allowed to reduce the time of return of the investment in about a couple of years, and has finally created a small economy of scale that has ended up reducing initial costs compared to a decade ago. Today, the Spanish market has heat pumps manufacturers, national collectors and pipelines, trained installers and drilling operators, increasing the knowledge about how to drill in different local soils, which has finally been reducing installation costs and propagating the technology.


What have been the contributions of EnergyLab to the development of this technology in Spain?

“We collaborate with installers and engineers, we monitor, and thus we can identify improvement points for future installations. In recent years there has been a phase of acquiring very deep knowledge, we have written articles, attended technical conferences. We have been able to monitor, measure, view and disseminate to those who manage the funds, delivering this knowledge so that they perceive firsthand that geothermal energy works and is efficient. We seek to do demonstrative projects that break barriers at the national level”