By the Potencia correspondent

9 August 2012 – From the Mesoamerican region to Tierra del Fuego, Latin America’s potential for electricity production from geothermal sources is substantial. Several countries in the region are particularly rich in this renewable energy resource, and more importantly it is beginning to attract interest internationally as well as domestically.

Nicaragua is one of those countries. Across the country’s northwest coast you will find the Los Maribios Mountains, also known as the Volcanic Central Range – San Cristobal, Telica, Cerro Negro and Momotombo are some of the volcanoes in that area.

According to the Nicaraguan Ministry of Energy and Mines, the country’s geothermal sources have the potential to produce 1500 MW of electricity.

Latinoamerica Renovable reports that 300 MW would be sufficient to satisfy Nicaragua’s current electricity demand – this Central American country covers an area of 80 000 square miles and has a population of about 5.5 million.

Two Canadian companies have been the geothermal project pioneers in Nicaragua. They are Polaris Geothermal (Ram Power Corporation) and Magma Energy (Alterra Power).

The former is developing the San Jacinto project, where uses the heat of thermal spring to generate electricity through backpressure steam turbines. The geothermal station is expected to produce 72 MW in late 2012.

Remaining in Central America, El Salvador’s Ministry of Economy and the National Energy Council have signed an agreement with LaGeo to train 90 people in geothermal technoloy, reports Energías 4E.

The same publication also reported that both the Latin American and Caribbean regions could produce up to 6000 MW from future geothermal projects – 43 per cent in Central America, 39 per cent in Mexico, 17 per cent in the Andean countries and 1 per cent in the Southern Cone.

Mexico’s geology also makes it one of the most suitable for generation power through geothermal sources. Currently, the country is the third biggest geothermal energy producer in the world, with an installed capacity of 959 MW. Only the US and the Philippines have a greater capacity.

Mexico has several geothermal power stations, including ones in the states of Baja California, Coahuila, Michoacan, Jalisco and Puebla. The last one is the Los Sumeros station, which has an installed capacity of 50 MW.

Geothermal projects are also receiving growing support from Mexico’s federal government because it is classified as a renewable energy source.

In South America, several countries are developing some projects or studying their viability. Colombia and Ecuador have been negotiating plans to jointly build geothermal stations.

Colombia’s minister of Mines and Energy, Mauricio Cárdenas, said earlier this year to El Espectador that the projects both countries are developing are expected to generate 50 MW but the area has a potential of 150 or 250 MW. The first output is expected by 2013.

Following the Andean range towards the South, in Peru the government wants to take advantage of the geothermal potential as well. Some foreign companies have been authorized to explore from 2014 the viability of these plans, La Republica reports.

In Chile there are over 3000 volcanoes – home to 20 per cent of the Earth’s active volcanoes. The country consumes nowadays 13 500 MW and the geothermal projects to be developed in the next years are expected to add at least 3500 MW to the overall electric production.

In neighboring Argentina, the Copahue project is being jointly built by Canadian Geothermal One and Earth Heat from Australia. Copahue will be the country’s first geothermal station, with am estimated output capacity of 30 MW.

Clearly, Latin America’s geology makes geothermal power production a viable renewable energy resource, with greater exploitation expected in the coming years.

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