When we think about geothermal energy, we may imagine big, steamy and noisy plants that expand throughout several hectares. Indeed, geothermal plants are projects like this, which also need big investments and time to be developed.
High costs are involved in geothermal, says Gerardo Hiriart, Director General of Grupo Enal, “a 100MW [geothermal] project can cost up to US$300 million. Of that price, almost half is for the central power producing unit, 40 percent for the development of the wells, 5 percent for the exploration phase and 5 percent for engineering and management.”
Geothermal projects can take several years to be constructed, and during those years developers need to keep injecting capital for their development. Meanwhile, the geothermal energy that could be used sits just there, unproductive.
But this does not have to be the case always.
Grupo Enal has just recently developed a portable and easy to install distributed generation plant that can be fitted in exploratory wells to start production before the main geothermal plant is settled. “We came to this solution while working for a producer that needed to start generating energy to support the development of their geothermal projects. Our client was considering either diesel generators or solar roofing. However, we decided to take advantage of the existing geothermal resource placed there. After some engineering, we created the first geothermal plant for distributed generation with a production capacity of 20kW,” explains Gerardo, happily. After further engineering and hard work, Enal has now developed a 500 kW geothermal portable power plant that is ready to be tested in real life conditions.
This portable plant can be used to start what Gerardo calls pre-production, a phase in which a small energy production is done while also characterizing the wells in real-time by acquiring data such as pressure, temperature, enthalpy and pH, among others. This allows for an easier engineering phase with more data. The electric energy produced in pre-production can be either used by the project developer, or sold to the grid under what is called the distributed generation scheme, therefore providing an economic help to the project developers.
Grupo Enal’s portable geothermal plant is already making people spin their heads thinking about the possibilities. For now, Gerardo wants to prove the concept with project development companies. “Our idea for this phase is to find a partner that is developing a well, and offer our 500kW plant as a power-producing unit that will also help characterize the well while the main power plant is being built. In this way, project developers can start selling energy months or even years before the plant is fully operational. Turkey is among the countries that is highly interested in participating with Enal in this testing phase,” he explains.
Although in an initial state Gerardo is focusing on implementing the project with geothermal developers, he wants to use the plant in the future to bring distributed energy to remote places where the use of other energies is not feasible.
Few people in the industry have Gerardo’s passion and vision for the geothermal sector in the country, “Mexico has over 3,000 professionals with experience in geothermal technologies and over 30 years of experience developing geothermal projects. Few countries in the world possess this kind of capital,” he finishes.
Grupo Enal is a living proof of how innovation can be done in even the hardest places, and its portable generation plant will for sure bring a fresh breeze to the hot and steamy geothermal fields.
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