Words of CEGA`s director: Second time for geothermal energy

Monday, 26 de September

Dear geotermal colleagues,

This 2016 we begin our second period of five years funded by CONICYT Fondap Program. As a research centre we have a huge challenge ahead: continue doing high-level research and captivate the interest of dozens of undergraduate and graduate students for deepening into the study of geothermal energy in a taugh national context, where the energy of the Earth seems to be more buried than ever.
The hope of our students and ours to get to know better the Andean geothermal systems, provide new methodologies to gather baseline information or search for applications of geothermal energy to improve the quality of life of our society, contrasts with the daunting panorama that today faces geothermal energy in Chile. If 2012 the number of existing geothermal exploration concessions was 68 (the historical maximum, since the new geothermal energy law), by the year 2015 the figure dropped to 17, and so far the year that runs, there are only eight exploration concessions and nine concessions of exploitation (data obtained from ACHEGEO and the Ministry of Energy). These are worrying figures for the goal of achieving a diversified and robust national energy matrix, given that geothermal energy is a clean and stable local renewable energy, independent of the weather. Clearly the “geotermal gold fever” ended its cycle and now we face a completely different scenario. What happened with the initial enthusiasm?, what happened to all these concessions that today are not operating?, where is the information obtained by these companies that are no longer working on site? There are many questions, and I doubt that there is a simple (and only) response for them.

This situation is, at the very least, paradoxical, since we can say that today geothermal energy in Chile is more alive than ever. We are living an historical moment in which the first geothermal power plant is being built in Cerro Pabellón (North of Chile) by Geotermica del Norte. This is a mixed Company between the Italian Enel Green Power (51.4% participation) and the Chilean Enap (48.6%), and their plant will represent the first South American geothermal power station (although a small experimental plant in Copahue (Argentina) was built, currently it is not generating electricity). The Company is expecting to produce 48 Mw at Cerro Pabellón, projecting to expand up to 100 Mw. Very son, Chile will enter the club of countries that generate electricity using geothermal energy, proving that geothermal energy is possible in the Andean countries. But with the low numbers of current exploration concessions, where will be installed the second plant? Very interesting initiatives such as Energía Andina or Mighty River Power are no longer operating in Chile. And the philippine Company EDC, which had projected a drilling campaign last summer , also cancelled in field operations. The Geothermal Council seems to be weakened, since some of the companies that integrated it are no longer active. From the academic perspective, we watch with concern the scenario that geothermal companies are facing.
On the other hand, the different ministerial bodies seem to be making some adjustments to the geothermal legislation, but concrete results are still nowhere to be seen. This complex situation contrasts with CEGA’s active plans for our next five years, of creating geothermal resource maps, deepen into the understanding of the geological origins of our reservoirs, and working on direct use of geothermal in different piloto projects.

I have always advocated that geothermal development is a task involving many actors, and our research plans would be enlightened by the interest of private companies and public agencies, through a synergistic work for promoting that has being trying to emerge for almost a century in Chile. Or is that we not are all looking for the same goal, develop clean and local energy? Chile has huge geothermal resources and an internationally recognized research center. We must join forces, both from the private sector and from the Academy and the State, so that we may soon announce the development of another geothermal plant elsewhere in our long and narrow geography, because most of the country has the resources to do that. Chile deserves to have geothermal energy. We live in a country at the end of the world with a unique environment to protect, and we will only be able to inherit this to our children if we grow up with clean energy. Hopefully the pessimism of the companies and the State laxity will be reversed, and together we can all contribute our bit to the development of geothermal energy in our country.