Exploiting the Earth’s internal heat to produce electricity is one measure that ICE promotes to compensate for fluctuations in rainfall affecting hydropower production in the country.
The utilization of geothermal potential is part of efforts to diversify the electricity generation of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), using natural sources. These also include wind power and biomass (agricultural waste).
Electricity production from steam extracted at great depth, it is particularly attractive to the Institute, because it is a natural resource available, and is not subject to variations in climate.
In Costa Rica, 78% of the energy sources that produce, are affected by changes in weather conditions.
The concern for these variations and how these changes could affect the production of electricity this year motivated to take charge two studies on the topic.
The two new electricity generation projects from geothermal are Pailas II and Borinquen, both located on the slopes of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano in Guanacaste, and capable of producing up to 50 megawatts (MW) each.
According to studies conducted by ICE, the country has nine areas of geothermal interest, all located on the Central Mountain Range and Guanacaste.
In total, these nine areas have the potential to produce between 865 MW and 1,100 MW from the steam that exists underground.
However, only geophysical survey was performed in three of these areas: Miravalles, Rincón de la Vieja and Tenorio Volcano.
The director of the Center for Geothermal Resources ICE, Alfredo Mainieri said that to realize each project requires almost a decade, from the studios of exploration to the commissioning of the plant.
“It’s a long process, but the attraction of these plants is that, although they have a high cost in researching where to drill and then build it, the operating costs are very low and the plants operate year round, for more than 25 years, therefore, finally, the price per kWh is very cheap “the expert explained.
The price of a kilowatt hour produced from geothermal energy, is more than six times less than the price of a kilowatt hour produced from heat sources such as diesel or bunker.
Alfredo Mainieri also indicated that from the technical improvements, the current geothermal projects have less environmental impact and better utilization of steam extracted from underground.
The main obstacle in the exploitation of the geothermal potential for electricity generation in the country is the National Parks Act.
That legislation is preventing studies of geophysical prospecting on land under this condition.
According to Gilbert de la Cruz, almost all geothermal areas of interest are located within national parks.
For this reason, the Institute supports a bill that proposes separating 7% of the land of the Rincón de la Vieja, where have localized areas with good geothermal potential and compensate buying a piece of land as would be added to the same park national.