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Geothermal Country Overview: Guatemala

Guatemala volcano and sugar cane fields

Geothermal Overview of Guatemala

Guatemala has a total area of 108,889 km2 and a population of little over sixteen (16) million people. Not only is it the largest country in Central America, but it also possesses the largest economy.  With regards to the power generation scenario, Guatemala boasts a robust energy matrix, with almost every form of power generation connected to the grid and distribution coverage of more than 90%. The country’s energy matrix has a total installed capacity of 3300 MW.  Unfortunately, of this 3300 MW only 1.33% of power generation comes from geothermal energy. So far, only 4.4% of the country’s geothermal potential has been exploited.

In 1986, a new law was created which made private power generation possible. As such, the market was finally opened and stimulated a dramatic change in power generation ownership. This new “private power generation” initiative unfolded to become one of the most efficient formats in Latin America.  

Currently, the installed capacity in Guatemala is twice that of the country’s energy demand. This has created prospective opportunities to export a portion of the surplus energy to the south of Mexico and to the regional electricity distribution grid of Central America.  Data for the energy market can be found at the National Electric Power Commission and Wholesale Market Administrator (AMM) websites – both are regulated entities that are managed mostly by private investors.

Geothermal development started in the late 1970s by the INDE (Instituto Nacional de Electrificación) and along with international support, curated the initial and actual data of potential geothermal fields.  Preliminary studies discovered thirteen (13) potential geothermal sites and from them, five (5) were selected by the INDE. The five sites were: Zunil (1 and 2), Amatitlan, Tecuamburro, San Marcos, Moyuta.  Zunil is considered one divided into two developments.

Map of Guatemala - Geothermal SitesFigure 1: Geothermal Sites in Guatemala (Source: INDE)

 

Map of Guatemala - High Temperature SiteFigure 2: High-Temperature Sites in Guatemala (Source: INDE)

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines of Guatemala, the total potential capacity of all geothermal fields in Guatemala is estimated to be about 1000 MW. Currently, only a total of 44 MW is installed in two of these fields – Zunil and Amatitlan.  Both power plants, ORZUNIL (24 MW) and ORTITLAN (20 MW) were installed in 2001 and 2008 respectively, and are owned by ORMAT.

More Recently…

In 2008, a new development was started by U.S. Geothermal, Inc. at El Ceibillo Geothermal Field. This is located in the southern part of the Amatitlan area on a separate geothermal field from the Calderas field (where ORTITLAN is situated).

Drilling was performed on several exploration fields and in 2017 a production well was drilled with an estimated 1 – 2 MW potential.  In 2018, U.S. Geothermal, Inc. was purchased by ORMAT. Since then, there has been no word of new development on this project.  The actual capacity of this field has been estimated to range from 5 – 15 MW.

There has been an increased interest in direct-use geothermal applications in Central America and Guatemala is presently in the lead with these developments.  Other than the typical recreational applications common to geothermal-inclined countries, three (3) significant projects stand out in Guatemala. These are:

  1. Bloteca – a concrete product manufacturing company. Geothermal steam is used for the curing process of the products. This presents a huge advantage, not only in the agility of production but also over the competition. 
  2. Agroindustrias La Laguna – a fruit and vegetable drying plant that was built in 2001. 
  3. LEMONEX – Agroindustrias La Laguna was used as the template for this project. Here a large-scale dehydrator is used specifically for drying lemons.  

Details on the first two examples can be found in this article. It was presented at the OIT (International Geothermal Days in 1999) and the Geothermal Resources Council (GRC). 

Compared to other Central American countries that possess geothermal potential such as El Salvador and Costa Rica, Guatemala ranks far behind in terms of installed geothermal capacity. General data for the estimated geothermal potential and installed capacity (MW) of all Central American countries is shown in Table 1.

Chart - Potential MW Central American

Total of the installed capacity for each country and the role geothermal energy plays in the total generation is:

Chart - Installed Capacity MW in Central American

Chart - Total Geothermal Generation Central AmericaNote: All data obtained from the official pages of each country. All the most recent data, so the actual data for 2020 may vary.

NB: The most recent data was obtained from the official pages of each country. Actual data for 2020 may vary.

Future and Potential…

It is evident that Guatemala falls behind most of the other Central American countries listed, in terms of installed geothermal capacity. In comparison, the only exception is Panama, which has been estimated to possess geothermal potential on a smaller scale. As the existence of untapped, high-temperature geothermal fields becomes limited, the opportunity should be taken to seek further geothermal development. In Guatemala, the fields of Tecuamburro, Moyuta, San Marcos, and Zunil II offer the best geothermal prospects. However, since 1992 these fields have been legally reserved for the INDE. This move left the door open for a public-private partnership (PPP) and may prospectively spearhead massive geothermal development.

Additionally, another promising geothermal opportunity in Guatemala is the development of more direct-use applications which may eventually lead to further power generation initiatives – such as the El Ceibillo Geothermal Project. The three (3) main direct-use projects (mentioned previously) would have yielded enough information to create an interest for the power generation project.

While direct-use projects tend to require lower investment than electricity generation projects, they still entail performing ample research and data gathering. This also involves drilling smaller wells, which can eventually turn into invaluable sources of the temperature gradient, geological, and geochemical information. These projects not only provide sufficient information for geothermal development but also establish a cooperative environment within the local “geothermal community” and act as prominent sources of geothermal employment opportunities, whether directly or indirectly.

It is expected that within the next few years, more marked geothermal development efforts will be seen in Guatemala. The hope exists that the new government will seize the opportunity to exploit the already known fields in a joint venture with the private sector – with the aim of developing a much-needed source of energy.

Direct-use projects are plausible avenues to start with, through which developers can be offered incentives. Unfortunately, the law and current regulations are not well developed to take the singularity of geothermal development into full consideration. This subject is worth discussing in another article.

This wraps up our Geothermal Country Overview on Guatemala.  We hope you found some interesting value in this piece.  Please share this article across your respective networks to help spread the word about geothermal and it’s future in Guatemala.

This post was Guest Authored by Luis Arturo Mérida Peralta.  We appreciate his insight and time that went in to create this piece and look forward to working with him again soon.

Sources and additional reading: