“At 4,500 meters above sea level, high atop the Chilean Andes, the ground is humming with energy.
The peaks of this massive mountain range are often volcanic, the activity of which creates a beautiful environment for geothermal power production.”
The Andes are arguably the most underdeveloped source for geothermal energy in the world. Only in the last few years—nearly two decades after Chile passed the Law of Geothermal Concessions, which set the rules for development of Chile’s geothermal resources—did we capture this precious opportunity and send geothermal power flowing down from Cerro Pabellón in the Atacama Desert.
Cerro Pabellón is a series of three geothermal power plants that, when fully operational, will be able to produce 81 megawatts (MW) of energy per day. The project began in 2015 and is fast nearly completion of the third and final plant.
At 81 MW, Cerro Pabellón represents only the beginning of Chile’s geothermic potential. It does not rank among the world’s “large capacity” sites–like Larderello in Tuscany, which can produce over 16,000 MW/day. Still, the Hague’s geothermal energy potential capacity forecasts for Chile start at 16 gigawatts (GW)—or about 1000 Larderellos.
A lot goes into making a geothermal powerplant. At Cerro Pabellón, the “wells” are nearly 2 kilometers deep, and so understanding the suitability of the soil is a critical concern. We worked with the project lead company, Geotérmica del Norte (a joint venture Enel Green Power and Chile’s state-owned ENAP), to ensure the site’s geologic formation met the plant needs, and we also provided plans for the concrete foundations to house the 40,000 square meter installation.
We were also responsible for designing the plant’s electrical infrastructure, and—given the extreme temperatures associated with geothermal power production—for providing a habitable, air-cooled structural environment in which plant operations could be carried out.
The Cerro Pabellón project is aligned with four of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a renewable energy project, the plants will avoid nearly 500,000 tons of the annual atmospheric CO2E emissions associated with non-renewable energy production, which directly supports SDG 7, Affordable and Clean Energy and SDG 13, Climate Action.
Further, by being the first geothermal power plant in the region, Cerro Pabellón is a serious contributor to Chile’s infrastructure. When considered alongside the innovation necessary to create the world’s highest altitude geothermal power plants—Cerro Pabellón sits 4,500 meters above sea level—this project brings Chile important growth in SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.
But perhaps most importantly for the people of Chile, during the construction of the last of the three plants alone, nearly 700 people will be employed. That, plus the continued presence of full-time operational staff, will ensure that SDG 8, Decent work and Economic Growth is also supported.