Geothermal energy: Chile’s new foreign investment hot-spot

With around 500 active volcanoes, Chile is primed to take advantage of a renewable and reliable power source.  

Australian company Hot Rock has already invested more than US$50 million in exploring and developing Chile’s geothermal energy potential – but that figure is set to markedly rise with the company’s 2011 diligence report calling for rapid expansion in the Andean country.
Hot Rock is at the head of a foreign investment boom in Chile’s belt of active and dormant volcanoes, the development of which that could provide some of the best geothermal energy generation in the world.
In the long run, this is an industry that could drastically reduce global carbon emissions.
“Geothermal can be operated 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, as opposed to solar power, which operates 25 percent of the time due to its reliance on the sun,” said Mark Elliot, of Hot Rock, explaining why geothermal could be the renewable energy of choice in the coming decades.
And not only will the expansion of the industry boost the Chilean economy – with the creation of jobs and related industries – but it could also provide Chile with an alternative to its sometimes troublesome reliance on local hydroelectricity and natural gas imports from Argentina, the former complicated by unreliable rainfall, the latter, geopolitics.
“[Chile’s current energy sourcing] has put the local market in a power crisis and made the Chilean government understand the importance of energy security,” said Elliot. “When you consider that Chile has a large number of volcanoes, which are essential to forming geothermal power, it’s an opportunity that is sitting in front of them to use clean base load energy.”
So far, the Australian company has identified 300 areas that it believes could provide geothermal energy, some of which are located near the capital city of Santiago and other major urban centers like Antofagasta.
After initial developmental and procedural stages, the company hopes to begin construction of its first plants within four years, and to be generating power soon afterwards.
“In this emerging industry we see it as very exciting, we are very pleased to be in Chile and we can see geothermal energy here moving forward to generation within the next five years,” said Elliot.