Diego Morata, CEGA’s director: “We have demonstrated that with excellent science we can generate improvements in people’s lives”.Friday, 30 de December
- After 12 years of operation, CEGA will no longer receive basal funding from ANID. However, it will continue its applied work with the portfolio of projects supported by different regional governments.
- CEGA’s director, Diego Morata, pointed out that “it has been demonstrated that there are resources and an interesting geothermal potential in Chile, so I cannot deny that I would have liked to see greater development of this energy in the country”.
In the first half of 2011, the Andean Geothermal Center of Excellence (CEGA) began operations. More than a decade has passed since the resources were awarded by the Funding Fund for Research Centers in Priority Areas (Fondap), which at that time operated under the auspices of the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (Conicyt) and today operates under the National Agency for Research and Development (ANID).
In this decade, CEGA has carried out a series of studies of geothermal potential in different parts of the country and collaborated in various national and international instances related to geothermal energy and the environment, where five main lines of research were developed: Heat sources; Fluid and isotopic geochemistry; Heat-fluid-rock interaction; Structural geology, tectonics and geophysics; and Modeling and architecture of reservoirs.
“These lines of research have shown a different way of doing science, involving diverse disciplines, including hard sciences and social sciences, in addition to having a great capacity to disseminate the work done to society. Undoubtedly, I feel very proud of the work done, and even more so of the human team that we managed to generate”, said CEGA’s director, Diego Morata.
Morata pointed out that, in the years of financing the Center, it was possible to consolidate a human group of excellence, demonstrate that inter, multi- and trans-discipline is possible, analytically equip the Department of Geology (DGL) and train a dozen undergraduate and graduate students. “We have achieved national and international recognition. We managed to demonstrate that, with science of excellence, it is possible to generate improvements in the quality of life of people and that geothermal energy is a reality in our country. This energy must have a greater and better projection in the immediate future,” said the academic.
“However, with the termination of ANID funding, our economic capital is considerably reduced. This does not mean that CEGA will not continue to operate in the coming years. Thanks to the regional FIC projects and the recently awarded Anillo, CEGA will be able to continue its research, development and innovation (R&D&I) activities until at least 2025”.
Shallow geothermal energy projects
Nine initiatives are currently being carried out by CEGA in different regions of the country. Seven of them are financed by the Innovation Funds for Competitiveness (FIC-R) of the regional governments, while two are under the auspices of the Ministry of Energy.
Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá, Antofagasta, Ñuble, La Araucanía, Los Ríos and Aysén are the regions where CEGA is developing different initiatives for the use of shallow geothermal energy for the air conditioning of spaces, such as schools, health centers and greenhouses.
This is in addition to nine completed projects that have been developed between 2015 and 2022. “Although we will not have the financial backing of the Fondap program, the perseverance and ambition of CEGA’s human team, particularly the one working on low-temperature systems and direct use, will allow us to continue working on shallow geothermal energy and continue positioning our Center, both nationally and internationally,” explained Morata.
Compared to the beginnings of CEGA, how is geothermal energy positioned in the country?
When CEGA was created, around 2010, Chile was experiencing a real geothermal exploration boom. There were several companies developing exploration of high temperature geothermal systems throughout the country, mainly in the Andes Mountains.
However, what at the beginning was seen as a great opportunity, was diluted little by little, since the companies were leaving the country. Today, despite having the first geothermal electricity generation plant in Chile (Cerro Pabellón), only Geotérmica del Norte (a joint venture between Enel Green Power and ENAP) and Transmark remain in the country.
In any case, we can say that we were present at the inauguration of Cerro Pabellón; that today we are working on high and low enthalpy projects; that the collaboration with the two companies that remain in Chile is excellent; and that the concept of the direct use of geothermal energy has even been placed on the political agenda.
But I cannot deny that I would have liked a greater development of geothermal energy in Chile. It has been demonstrated that there are resources and an interesting potential that could even be installed between 1000 and 2000 MWe by 2050. However, the reality is that this milestone seems very far from being achieved. The lack of planning in energy policy once again overshadows the impetus with which geothermal exploration was carried out in the early years of the 21st century. I trust that the plan to decarbonize our energy matrix will really be the necessary incentive for a greater and better massification of geothermal energy in our country.