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Steam heat: exploiting geothermal energy sources

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Latin America’s “ring of fire” means a threat of volcanoes and earthquakes, but also a valuable, underexploited energy resource.

Central America and Mexico especially are regions with significant geothermal potential – more than 3,000 megawatts, according to various analysts, compared to around 500 megawatts currently being generated.

For its part, Japan is poised to lend $224 million for three geothermal plants in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province, each with a capacity of 55 megawatts.

Costa Rica is aiming to raise its geothermal capacity to 327 megawatts during the next decade, more than double current levels.

In Nicaragua, United States-based Polaris Energy, with financing from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, is developing two plants with expected capacity ot close to 150 megawatts.

Nicaragua has the highest potential for geothermal production of any Central American country, with estimates of capacity not far from 2,000 megawatts.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government recently awarded two exploration permits to Enel of Italy, and another to Grupo Dragon, controlled by media and retail tycoon, Ricardo Salinas Pliego.

The cost of geothermal development is higher than hidroelectricity.

But geothermal energy is efficient, since its output never varies, unlike that solar or wind power, or even hydro in some cases.

Geothermal energy in addition is largely clean.

Trace metals are sometimes a byproduct of geothermal generation.

But quantities are generally small, and can be pumped back underground.

Meanwhile, the only emission from geothermal generation is water vapor.