The threats to continued regular supplies of oil and its increasing price have caused consternation in many importing countries.
The threats to continued regular supplies of oil and its increasing price have caused consternation in many importing countries. Most of them have been spurred to reduce their oil consumption by conservation and by finding alternative sources of energy. Once such country is Costa Rica, which is experimenting with geothermal power.
SYNOPSIS: Costa Rica has been investigating with geothermal power for twenty years. This volcanic area first attracted attention in 1959 when scientists began studying its potential as a power source. After some preliminary investigations, made with the assistance of United Nations experts, the study was halted by a shortage of money and a lack of geothermal expertise in Latin America. But the potential of the subterranean reservoirs of hot water continued to tantalise those who saw the need for alternative power sources.
The process of obtaining geothermal power is much the same as drilling for oil. The hot water under pressure is released by drilling bores, then piped away. In Paris, France, and Reykjavik, Iceland, it is used to heat houses and commercial premises, and in New Zealand the pressure of steam is sufficient to power turbines for generating electricity. And it is for the generation of electricity that this field in Costa Rica is being developed.
In 1975 a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank made possible the hiring of contractors to being feasibility studies. The result: drilling of four exploratory bores began in the area around Miravalles Volcano. At depths below 980 metres (3,200 feet) the scientists found water-bearing strata and the water there was hot: 239 degree centigrade (450 degrees fahrenheit).
The soil brought up from the bore is tested for its chemical, physical and thermal characteristic prior to harnessing the power of the naturally-occurring hot water. In August this year (1979) the first well gushed a powerful jet of steam which is capable of producing between seven and nine thousand kilowatts of electricity, enough to power a small city.
Costa Rica already uses its water resources to generate hydro-electric power. If the geo-thermal power studies are successful, a generating station using the steam could be in production in about four years (1984).