Geothermal Energy to Boost Global South’s Development

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


The geothermal heat produced by the earth’s molten core is a resource receiving more and more attention across the global South. Properly harnessed, geothermal energy ( offers a low-cost, non-polluting source of power and hot water that does not harm the environment or contribute to climate change (

The country that has made the most of this resource is the Scandinavian island nation of Iceland (, one of the world’s most volcanically active places.

The country was once one of the poorest in Europe, dependent on fishing as its main income source. But by 2007-2008, Iceland was ranked as having the highest level of human development in the world.

One of the contributors to this impressive improvement in human development is the tapping of the country’s geothermal energy reserves (

According to the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), “Iceland is widely considered the success story of the geothermal community. The country of just over 300,000 people is now fully powered by renewable forms of energy, with 17 per cent of electricity and 87 per cent of heating needs provided by geothermal energy.”

Worldwide, geothermal energy supplies power to 24 countries, producing enough electricity to meet the needs of 60 million people (GEA).

The Philippines generates 23 per cent of its electricity from geothermal energy, and is the world’s second biggest producer behind the U.S.  Geothermal energy is also helping provide power in Indonesia, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Mexico.

Energy is critical to advances in human development. Electricity enables the introduction of lighting in homes, the use of washing machines and other modern appliances and of communications tools such as computers and televisions.

Geothermally heated water can be used to heat homes, provide hot water for bathing, heat swimming pools and bathing places and power electricity turbines. Industry can benefit from the low-cost energy, giving a boost to economic development.

And, crucially, it does not harm the natural environment like conventional energy sources such as coal, gas or nuclear power with its legacy of radioactive waste.

While not all countries are as well positioned as volcanically active Iceland or the Philippines, many can find a way to tap this natural resource.

Interest in this power source is increasing in Central and South America, whose energy consumption is forecast to increase by 72 per cent by 2035 (International Energy Outlook 2011).

South America currently relies heavily on hydro-electric power, but this is proving insufficient to meet the growing demand ( A World Bank study says “Latin American and Caribbean countries could boost region-wide electricity supply by 30 percent by 2030 by diversifying the energy mix to include hydropower, natural gas, and renewable energy” (ESMAP).

The report estimates the region has the potential to generate 300 terawatts of geothermal energy per year, roughly equivalent to the output of fifty 1,000-megawatt power plants or the emission of 210 million metric tons of carbon greenhouse gases (ARPA).

The areas best placed to tap this resource are located along the Pacific Rim from Mexico to Chile, and in parts of the Caribbean.

The 2012 Geothermal International Market Overview Report by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) ( found Argentina, Chile and Peru are moving ahead with plans.

In Argentina, Earth Heat Resources ( is developing geothermal energy in the volcanic Copahue region in partnership with Xtrata Pachon SA (

Because of government support and legislation, there are now 83 geothermal exploration concessions under review in Chile, according to Renewable Energy

The Renewable Energy Center ( has been established in Chile and is the fruit of a partnership between the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Chilean National Energy Commission. It is being used to gather data on global best practices and techniques to be adapted for use in Chile, and hopes to become a knowledge source for the region. A law is also in place to oblige power utilities with a capacity above 200 megawatts (MW) to have 10 per cent of their energy come from renewable sources.

Central America has already enthusiastically embraced geothermal resources, according to the report by the GEA.

Currently, El Salvador and Costa Rica derive 24 per cent (204 MW) and 12 per cent (163 MW) of their electricity production from geothermal energy. Nicaragua and Guatemala are also generating a portion of their electricity from geothermal energy.

And Central America has still more geothermal potential it can tap. Estimates place this between 3,000 megawatts and 13,000 megawatts at 50 identified geothermal sites.


1) Geothermal Basic from the Geothermal Energy Association. Website:

2) Geothermal information for children. Website:

3) Geoexchange: A website connecting contractors, manufacturers , drilling contractors, ground loop installers, engineers, designers, distributors, architects, builders, utilities, training, financing, software and suppliers. Website:

4) Iceland Geothermal: Icelandic geothermal cluster mapping, geothermal energy consumption. Website:

5) Iceland Geothermal Conference 2013: An international conference on geothermal will be held 5-8 March 2013 at Harpa Conference Centre in Reykjavik, Iceland and is hosted by the Iceland Geothermal initiative. Website:


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