10. janúar 2011

Contract for geothermal research in Chile

It is hoped that the use of renewable energy in Chile will increase in the coming years.

Recently, Iceland GeoSurvey and one of the largest mining companies in Chile, Collahuasi, signed a two-year contract for geothermal research in the Chile. The mining industry needs considerable amount of energy, and according to the contract Iceland GeoSurvey will be in charge of initial exploration in two high-temperature areas, Irruputuncu and Olca, in northern Chile near the international border with Bolivia.

Along with the Icelandic engineering firm Verkís, Iceland GeoSurvey has operated the service and consulting company GeoThermHydro in Chile, and the new contract is the result of this cooperation and marketing effort in the last few years. Iceland GeoSurvey and Verkís have lately worked on a number of smaller projects in Chile but this project will be the largest so far. In all likelihood, the geothermal energy sector in Chile will be highly active in the coming years. Correspondingly, the projects of GeoThermHydro are becoming more numerous and steadily growing in scale.

According to the new contract, Iceland GeoSurvey and Verkís will undertake management and consulting service to Collahuasi, as well as being in charge of organizing field research and data processing, well design, onsite geological consulting, well logging and well testing. Furthermore, it will be the role of Iceland GeoSurvey to construct models of the geothermal systems and write initial reports. Field research started formally in September and has progressed satisfactorily. According to the present plans, the first well will be drilled in Olca in the first quarter of this year, but this will be a challenging project as the well site is at an altitude of about 5000 m.

The country of Chile is approximately 4,300 km long from north to south, on average 175 km wide, and the areal extent is 756,950 square kilometers. The population of the country is about 17 million.

Geothermal development in Chile is still in its early stages with geothermal water mostly being used for spas so far, but there is an interest in diversifying the use of the geothermal energy. Chile possesses a significant number of geothermal areas, mostly at an elevation of 3000-5000 m in the Andes mountain range in the northern part of the country. This is where Chile’s best known geothermal area, El Tatio, can be found. The El Tatio field was the target for exploratory wells in the 1960’s but this did not result in the field being harnessed.

Because of their limited oil resources, Chileans have mostly used coals as well as natural gas imported from Argentina to produce electricity. For this reason, the government of Chile has decided to support an effort to increase the generation of electricity by means of geothermal energy, hydropower, and other renewable sources. It may be added that Chile has ratified the Kyoto protocol and must therefore increase the share of renewable energy sources in its power production in the coming years.