Director’s opening message

Monday, 03 de October

Let’s use the heat of the Earth, directly

Dear geothermal colleagues,

Talking about geothermal energy in Chile, is synonymous of electricity generation, economic barriers and almost a hundred years of exploration without production, as only by the end of this year (or early 2017), Chile will have some MW from a geothermal source. However, there are ways to use the heat from the Earth that currently produce almost seven times more energy than the global installed capacity of geothermal power generation. Around the world, 25 countries generate electricity with geothermal energy, with a total installed capacity of over 12,600 MW. This represents a modest number if compared with the 82 countries with an installed capacity of 71,000 MWt for direct use of geothermal energy in different production processes (according to data presented at the World Geothermal Congress 2015 – Melbourne, Australia).

Geothermal direct use has progressively increased, with new applications in different productive sectors (agricultural and industrial sectors). A strong increase in geothermal heat pumps implementation has also been reported. This increase is a result of the efficiency of this technology, its easy implementation, the cost savings it generates and its contribution to depollution. Many countries where geothermal heat pumps are being used massively for domestic heating or district heating, are saving millions of dollars. Also, tons of CO2 emissions are no longer being generated thanks to this technology. In short, geothermal is an excellent way to help with the prevention of climate change and increase the quality of life of citizens through the direct use of a resource that Earth releases generously.

In Chile, the direct use of geothermal energy is still a very unknown subject. However, at CEGA we’ve been developing several projects to generate scientific knowledge to implement various direct uses according to the characteristics of our own local resource. We developed a thermal map of the Santiago basin and pin what would be the best solution for a cooling & heating a house in this area with geothermal heat pumps. Also recently, we acquired a couple of projects to implement greenhouse and a drying Wood in Patagonia, using geothermal energy as a heat source. Both are small scale pilot projects, but we seek to demonstrate that direct use of geothermal should be a reality in Chile. Even further, we believe that air pollution in southern cities  (Coyhaique, Temuco, Osorno) could be mitigated (even eliminated) by implementing efficient geothermal heating systems. Some countries have shown that this is possible. Numerous homes in Europe are heated with geothermal energy and there are many initiatives in several countries where it is used for different industrial processes. But in Chile, a country with a high geothermal gradient, we just have installed about 11 to 12 MWt. Anyway, at least we can say that the new projects we are developing at CEGA, along with initiatives from the Ministry of Energy aimed at developing geothermal direct use and new initiatives emerging from the private sector, allow us to venture a promising future for more widespread use of this energy.

But we still have a long way to go. Undoubtedly, Chile will have to develop a different law for direct use of geothermal energy. The Ministry of Energy Agenda specified clearly: a proposal to “Foster geothermal energy for local development”, proposing a momentum for a program on  low and medium enthalpy geothermal direct use. We have, therefore, a nice challenge ahead. And this challenge is fully in line with the idea that power us in this second period of CEGA: geothermal energy and society. Undoubtedly we are very happy with the first results we have been getting and the success of our project applications. But we see that the space to grow and develop is immense. There i slots of room for R&D in the field of direct use of geothermal energy. At CEGA, we are willing to take on the challenges. And hopefully new players will join us in this adventure.