Guatemala and Central America Gear Up to Expand Geothermal Energy

Central and South America are home to a wide variety of volcanic hotspots that have gained some form of attention or another throughout history. While for some they were simply yet another geological feature, others are hoping to tap into the natural power that lies within these hotspots and channel it into geothermal power. Several Central American nations in particular are going ahead with new geothermal projects and expansions of currently existing ones in hopes of cutting down on their foreign oil reliance and reviving their energy infrastructure.

For most of the last three several years, the nation of Guatemala has been receiving geothermal electricity from two geothermal plants that run from the Pacaya volcano in the south. Pacaya, which erupted as recently as May, would be the site of an expansion of the previously existing power plants by the company that built them, Ormat Technologies Incorporated, if the right spot could be found. Ormat is currently looking into increasing the capacity of the plants to approximately twenty megawatts of power while trying to ascertain if the massive investment required to find the ideal sites is worth their money. Guatemalan government officials remain optimistic that their nation has the capability to generate up to 1000 megawatts of geothermal energy. This figure comes from Guatemala’s own research that backs up their new plan to generate sixty percent of their power from geothermal and hydroelectric sources by 2022.

For Guatemala, the development of geothermal power sources as one of their primary means of generating electricity is crucial. According to studies done by the Latin American Energy Organization, reliance on hydroelectricity in nations like Guatemala could be detrimental to their farming industry. As the climate continues to change and they frequently battle tropical storms and hurricanes, it is necessary to ensure that the farmers do not suffer from the dam construction that would be required for a massive expansion of hydroelectric power.

Geothermal energy also has support in other nations throughout the Central American region. Costa Rica, another nation with several active volcanoes, currently generates 152 megawatts of geothermal energy from four plants. They also have plans in place to continue expanding their geothermal capacity with the construction of several more plants next year and beyond. The nations of El Salvador and Nicaragua are also planning on expanding their currently existing geothermal power operations to include a much larger percentage of their power requirements.

Although Guatemala and the rest of Central America continue to develop their geothermal power interests, nearby regions such as Venezuela in South America currently enjoy a fairly large oil industry and countries in the Caribbean, such as St. Lucia, are only beginning to be able to work with geothermal power. Despite the costs, however, it is heartening to see the natural benefits of the many active volcanoes in the region being utilized to generate a clean source of power.

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