Home to Caño Cristales (The river of five colors) and Tejo – the national sport, Colombia is well known for its lucrative coal mining and petroleum industries, but did you know it has been keeping a secret for a long time? – Its massive geothermal potential!

In 2017, Colombia was the largest coal producer in South America and the region’s third-largest oil producer after Venezuela and Brazil. It ranked as the sixth-largest crude oil exporter to the United States in 2017. Colombia is also the United States’ third largest export market in Latin America behind Mexico and Brazil. Despite being a major coal producer, the country exports most of the coal it produces and was the fourth–largest coal exporter in the world in 2017 after Australia, Indonesia, and Russia.  Colombia had 5.4 trillion short tons of proved coal reserves (mostly bituminous coal) in 2017 – the largest in South America.

As of the end of 2018, crude oil reserves were up 9.9% to 1.96 billion barrels. It was projected that 890,000 barrels per day of oil equivalent were to be expected for this year – 2019. Despite these numbers, projections show that if new sources are not found by 2021 to 2023, gas may need to be imported to meet domestic demands – at a price more than twice that of internal cost. As such, Colombia is in the midst of efforts to increase local production and oil reserves after being hit by the global fall in oil prices. Despite the reliance on fossil fuels, a large percent of power generation in Colombia comes from renewable resources. Presently, these renewable energy sources include hydro, wind, solar, and biomass. Colombia has an installed electricity capacity close to 14,500 MW, from which 9,800 MW is based on hydroelectric power, 4,680 MW based on thermal power and about 18 MW based on wind energy. The country relies on hydropower for most of its electricity needs and in 2017, hydropower accounted for 70% of installed capacity and 30% of power consumption.

Figure 1: Total energy consumption in Colombia by fuel type (Source: https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/analysis.php?iso=COL#note )

Despite the heavy reliance on hydropower, diversifying the energy matrix through increased renewable energy dependence is a fruitful strategy. The country finds it necessary to develop renewable energy projects that are cleaner and friendlier towards the environment. These are the reasons why the Colombian State established a National Energetic Plan with the objectives to expand and warrant the energy provision; promote regional and local development; introduce new sources and technologies of energy generation; contribute to reducing the greenhouse gas emission and climate change, and promote the use of renewable energy sources. For these reasons, the Colombian Government is interested in the study and development of non-conventional renewable energy. This is where geothermal energy comes in.

Figure 2: Areas with geothermal potential in Colombia https://geothermal-energy-journal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40517-017-0084-x#Sec5

Colombia is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire and demonstrates volcanic activity along with its Western and Eastern mountain range. Its location and geologic disposition make Colombia attractive for geothermal development for electricity generation. An estimated 2210 MW of untapped geothermal potential has been discovered in Colombia. Currently, the installed capacity of indirect use is approximately 14.4 MW. Direct use applications include bathing, swimming, and minor heating. Initial reconnaissance studies of geothermal resources in Colombia were performed in the 1970s but geothermal development is still considered new and there is no installed geothermal capacity as yet. Currently, with the support of different entities, national and abroad, two projects are in the pre-feasibility and feasibility with 190 MW of geothermal potential in the Macizo Volcánico del Ruiz and in 2011, Ecuador and Colombia announced their cooperation on developing a 138 MW geothermal power plant at their border, Tuviño-Chiles-Cerro-Negro to diversify their energy supply.

Using geothermal energy for electricity production has encountered several barriers. These include limited technical and scientific capabilities for exploration and development of the geothermal resource, large capital for preliminary exploration, high exploration risks, geothermal areas are located in volcanic zones with limited access and connection to the National Transmission System (NTS), and non-application of regulatory frameworks on the development and use of such resources by the entities responsible for promoting and managing such projects. Additionally, externalities that cannot be assessed in a typical financial analysis, (reduction of vulnerability of the electrical system against climate change, the complementarity of hydropower; reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; decreasing the demand and consumption of fossil fuels). Collectively, these issues have caused slow progress in the performance of pre-feasibility studies for the use of these resources.

Even though geothermal energy is considered a clean, renewable, and environmentally viable technology for electricity production, it possesses particularities that require designing and implementing environmental management measures in all stages of the process. Surveying and pre-feasibility studies required prior to building and operating a geothermal plant require some degree of legal security in terms of the resource. As such, Colombian legislation establishes that obtaining an environmental permit is a mandatory requirement for the use of geothermal resources. Such a permit would implicitly cover all other permits, authorizations and/or concessions required for the use, exploitation and/or effects on the renewable resources that would be required over the useful life of the project.

To date, no geothermal power plants are operating in Colombia, as yet! Geological studies are being performed by the Colombian Geological Service at Nevado del Ruiz, Tufino-Chiles-Cerro Negro, Azufral Paipa and San Diego to establish the viability of developing projects in these areas.

This concludes our #GeothermalCountryOverview on #Colombia.  Check back weekly for more #GeothermalFactsandStats and follow us on all the major social media platforms!









Author: Elizabeth Bullock

June 10, 2019
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