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Less than one-fifth of the geothermal potential in Central America has been developed, a new study has found.

Central America, with more than 1,300 sources of thermal water and 75 volcanos, has an economic geothermal potential estimated at between 3-5GW.

However, of this just 650MW of capacity has been developed, providing around 8% of the region’s electricity needs, while a further 7MW provides thermal energy.

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The new study from the Central American Integration System (SICA) is part of an initiative to advance the development of geothermal energy and its application in direct uses such as electricity and industry.

The use of geothermal energy in the region could satisfy 70% of its energy needs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, SICA says. In addition, it would create new business, research development opportunities and jobs in the region.

As such, SICA believes that Central America could become a global leader in geothermal energy development for direct use exploitation.

Priority areas that are being investigated in the ongoing project include the adaptation of regulatory frameworks for the direct use of geothermal energy in the region and the development of demonstration projects to enable investment decisions in plants and facilities.

The development of methodological tools for the management of geothermal projects are another area of focus.

The study reinforces an earlier investigation from the Inter-American Development Bank, which found that geothermal is underdeveloped throughout Latin America and Caribbean with approximately 1.8GW developed out of an up to 70GW estimated potential.

The project is being run by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented through the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) with collaboration support from the International Geothermal Association, IRENA and World Bank among other organisations.

The SICA member countries are Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panamá and the Dominican Republic.

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