The Canary Islands

Located off the Northwest African coast, these tiny Spanish islands are undertaking a revolutionary feat of utilizing renewable technologies to fulfill a large percentage of their energy demands by the year 2030. Currently, the largest island Tenerife is already generating about 42% of its electricity from wind power. In the works is the exploratory quest for a geothermal resource. This Geothermal Country Overview on The Canary Islands will look at the history, potential, challenges and next steps.

Studies from the 1970s and 1980s realized within the National Energy Plan by the Geological and Miner Institute of Spain, considered the Canary Islands as having the highest potential for the development of geothermal energy in Spain. Primary evidence of the geothermal potential which exists comes from an underground hydrothermal system in the subsoil of Tenerife with a temperature of 275°C. Since then, it has become a necessary venture to evaluate whether it is possible to exploit the resource utilizing the scientific and technological developments reached in the past years.

Currently, surface explorations are being conducted on the islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and La Palma. Within the past 500 years, there have been 14 volcanic eruptions in the Canary Islands. The rich, volcanic history of these islands has already made them predisposed to the potential of being explored for geothermal resources. The project Termovolcan aims to promote the development of geothermal energy through the objectives of designing and developing innovative geophysical and geochemical methodologies that will improve the exploration of geothermal resources in Tenerife, Gran Canaria and La Palma.

Geothermal energy in the Canary Islands decided to create two groups

  • High enthalpy deposits of high temperature (above 100-150 ℃) mainly for power generation.
  • Low enthalpy geothermal energy or low temperature for heating and cooling, mainly in tourist facilities and shopping centers.

Surface geochemical and geophysical surveys have already started in all three islands.

Juan Ledo (Professor of the Department of Earth and Ocean Dynamics University of Barcelona) explains that the purpose of Termovolvan “is to make a detailed study of the Canary Islands in order to identify the areas with the greatest geothermal potential. To this end, a series of leading innovations in the fields of geophysics and geochemistry will be used and developed to facilitate the location of geothermal deposits that will later enable the development of geothermal energy on the islands.”

The varied geological characteristics of the Canary Islands present some difficulties in the search for geothermal deposits. Thermal springs, fumaroles, and abnormal gas or heat emissions are not as evident as in other active volcanic systems. In order to study the soil and subsoil under these conditions, Termovolcan uses innovative geochemical techniques to detect surface areas possessing increased permeability for the up-flow of deep-origin fluids. This includes analyzing the isotopic composition of helium, which aids in locating deep, heat sources. Thermal satellite images will also be analyzed using geophysical methods such as magnetotellurics (MT provide images of the subsoil structure at depths greater than those achieved by conventional electrical or electromagnetic techniques).

A 3D model of each island will be produced which combines the geochemical, geophysical, and geological information. This model will then be used to plan the first deep surveys. These surveys provide details about parameters such as temperature, pressure, and enthalpy of geothermal fluids. Such insights will facilitate feasibility analyses to determine the possibilities of exploiting the Canary Islands for electrical or thermal purposes.

The first phase of a study to explore the geothermal potential of Gran Canaria found that the temperature of hot underground water is around 150 ℃. According to the Institution Cabildo, this will be confirmed with the drilling of 2.5 km deep test wells that will complete this geothermal exploration study. As such, it is estimated that enough geothermal energy is present in Gran Canaria to generate electricity.

Funding Challenges

As promising as it sounds, obtaining funding and support from the government and other agencies have been more difficult than expected because of the high capital costs required, risks associated with drilling exploration and general uncertainty associated with the volcanic nature of the islands. It is important to note however, active volcanic monitoring is being conducted diligently by INVOLCAN, Spain’s official volcanic research, and seismic organization. Thus, in the event of an impending eruption, warning signs will be detected and given in advance. Also working closely with INVOLCAN is GeoTenerife. This company organizes field schools and programs that bring university students and graduates alike to intern with INVOLCAN. Much is learned about practical geophysical and geochemical methods as part of the ongoing geothermal surface exploration efforts in Tenerife and La Palma.

Considerations and Next Steps

What needs to be strongly considered is the revenue in which these islands spend on importing oil and natural gas resources to fuel the islands’ electricity demands and how energy from renewables can significantly reduce these costs and promote more environmental consciousness throughout the islands, considering how heavily dependent they are on tourism. The volcanic nature of these beautiful islands makes them prime candidates for exploring the geothermal resource. Preliminary studies have already been showing positive results. Should they receive further investments toward the exploration of their geothermal potential, these islands could be well on their way to becoming energy-independent and more carbon-neutral in their future sustainability goals.

 

Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma, Canary Islands

Photo credit: Elizabeth Bullock (August 13, 2019) – Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma, Canary Islands

 

Hot Spring Canary Islands

Photo credit: Elizabeth Bullock (August 13, 2019) – Geothermal hot spring, Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma, Canary Islands

This concludes our Geothermal Country Overview on The Canary Islands.  Browse through the rest of our blog for more Geothermal Facts and Stats and click for more Geothermal Country Overviews.

A special thank you to our Guest Author, Elizabeth Bullock for her contributions to this Geothermal Country Overview and other blog posts for us.

Sources and Continued Reading:

[1] https://seatitan.eu/tenerife-beats-the-record-for-renewables-by-covering-60-of-demand-in-its-system-last-sunday/

[2] http://www.fbg.ub.edu/en/news/termovolcan-project-to-promote-the-exploration-of-geothermal-resources-in-the-canary-islands/

[3] https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/canary-islands-continue-quest-for-geothermal-energy-utilisation/

[4] http://www.involcan.org/investigacion/actividades-de-idid/geothercan/

[5] https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/tag/la-palma/

[6] https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/studies-indicate-sufficient-geothermal-resources-to-power-all-gran-canaria/

[7] http://cger.no/doc/Oliver%20Hermening%20DRE%20Keynote.pdf

[8] http://propietarios.iter.es/noticias/noticia022_i.html

[9] http://geotenerife.com/geointern/

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