Geothermal energy, the key to the energy transition

The main protagonists of clean energies are usually the sun and wind, but there are also secondary actors such as geothermal energy. Although it seemed almost forgotten, the global energy crisis has brought this source of heat and energy to the fore.

What is geothermal energy and what is its potential in Argentina?

Geothermal energy is a type of energy obtained from the heat found inside the Earth. The center of the Earth's crust is made up of high-temperature liquid rock called magma. Geothermal energy involves using this heat to produce electricity, hot water, and heating and cooling systems.

Argentina is expected to have the largest amount of geothermal resources in South America, located in areas that require energy for the mining and tourism industries. “It is a renewable energy that can provide electricity 24 hours a day and without temperature changes. Therefore, the generation factor of geothermal exceeds 85% with current technology, above 40% of wind energy and 25% of solar energy”, Alejandro Conde Serra, head of the Geothermal Area of ​​the Argentine Mining Geological Service ( SEGEMAR).

Geothermal systems are present throughout the entire area that includes Puna, Cuyo and Northern Patagonia. “The provinces with the largest number of geothermal fields identified to date are Catamarca, Salta and Jujuy. We expect good results in the provinces of Mendoza and San Juan. Neuquén is another research horizon that adds to the already known geothermal fields of Copahue and Domuyo in the province“said the expert.

How does geothermal energy help combat environmental impacts?

Referring to the characteristics that make geothermal energy renewable, Alejandro Conde Serra explains that it does not emit greenhouse gases: “The geothermal fluids - steam and water - as well as are captured to feed the electricity generation system, return to the depth of the earth through reinjection wells. Well vibrations are damped by silencers, and modern geothermal plants are painted in earthy colors to mitigate visual impact."

Argentina has the necessary conditions to become one of the most attractive geothermal markets in the region.
Strictly speaking, the existence of igneous bodies located in the upper levels of the Earth's crust will give rise to areas of thermal anomalies, indicative of a possible high geothermal potential.

Geothermal energy allows the use of mining projects in places where there is no electricity or gas network for mineral processing plants, in addition to supplying municipalities where more than 2.000 people currently live. Furthermore, the development of this energy source contributes to the settlement of remote areas of the Puna and the Cordillera, which attract a lot of tourist interest but face limitations when it comes to providing energy for lighting and heating.

Challenges to expand geothermal energy in the country

In the geothermal area of ​​the Argentine Geological and Mining Agency, a systematic plan has been carried out to identify areas with potential for the development of this type of raw material.

However, economic and political instability in Argentina is hindering progress. “We need public policies that promote research and an economic framework that encourages investment and legal security”said the SEGEMAR expert.

According to the researcher, the dynamics of private investment “It has not yet been able to develop projects that promote the potential of the resource, which implies the need to deepen the generation of basic information from the State that increases geological certainty, reduces risk, and thus, promotes the geothermal sector in the country".

Geothermal energy in the world

There are currently 29 countries in the world that use geothermal resources for generate renewable energy and achieve development in remote areas. The three countries with the highest growth rates are the United States, Indonesia and Türkiye.

"To attract investment capital for development, it is necessary to continue and strengthen basic research and develop dissemination plans as countries around the world have done. Personally, I believe that investment in this energy sector should be stimulated by attracting the lithium industry, which is of geothermal origin."Conde Serra stressed.

The United States has begun extracting lithium from deep brines to fuel geothermal power plants, and researchers agree that the next horizon will be the co-production of electricity with heat and lithium.

"All the infrastructure and technology of the plant is made in Argentina. Except for turbines, all resources and equipment are already available in the country, including drilling equipment. In this sense, the equipment was initially planned to drill the active geothermal deposits in Vaca Muerta”, summarizes the expert.

With information of: