Geothermal Energy in Chile

Chile belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire, a massive line of intense volcanic and seismic activity. Therefore, geothermal energy generation is a new opportunity for the country to solve its growing need for energy.

In recent years, the country has been trying to invest in renewable energy, such as solar, wind, biomass, and hydro, which has been taking the lead. According to 2011 reports, 38 percent of the national energy supply is being generated by hydroelectric power.

GeoThermHydro is a company from Iceland which is trying to expand its knowledge via several projects here in Chile.

“In Iceland, we have been working with geothermal energy for almost 70 years now and we have accumulated lots of experience. Of course, it has been trial and error,” Harpa Elin Haraldsdóttir, a managing director of GeoThermHydro company, says.

“And it is quite exciting to apply our experience here in Chile, which is more or less starting with geothermal explorations.”

Almost all energy needs are fulfilled by geothermal and hydro power in Iceland. Geothermal energy is not only used for electricity generation, but also for heating.

How does geothermal energy research work?

“Basically you need heat and pressure to get the energy from the Earth,” Harpa Elin Haraldsdóttir explains. “The first step is to send a geologist to map out the area, the geochemist takes samples… this would give you an idea of what could be underground,” Haraldsdóttir explains.

“But you won’t have any certainty until you start drilling. The drilling goes from 800 to 2,000 meters, hopefully getting to a reservoir where you find heat, pressure, and permeability. When you are confident about your research, you can start drilling the production wells and building the power plant.”

GeoThermHydro brings the geothermal geologist experts from Iceland to provide know-how and work closely with local specialists. As for now, Chile is lacking the knowledge necessary to support exploration works.

A joint venture of two major Icelandic companies, GeoThermHydro has already several successful projects in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, for example.

“It takes a little bit of time to develop the project. Of course, there are some risk factors, especially connected to drilling,” Haraldsdóttir continues. “The cost of the exploration and the drilling is high and the Chilean government is not getting financially involved. However, the country is trying to support these projects, along with other renewable energy generation.”

By the year 2020, Chile’s goal is to support 20 percent of the country’s energy need by renewable energy power plants.

“But in the long-term, it is a good investment for society to have a secure base load for energy generation. Moreover, geothermal is a very environmentally friendly solution for energy generation and will become more desirable in future. Therefore it is very important for Chile to take the steps to put itself forward in this development,” Haraldsdóttir concludes.

Marie Vitkova,