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Interview with Gregor Rumberg (IGA - International Geothermal Association)

Gregor Rumberg from IGA was in El Salvador in September and we also had the chance to meet him. He told us about his impressions of the country and especially about the direct-use of geothermal energy.

What was the reason for you to visit El Salvador?

Besides the fact, that I had never been in Central America before and always wanted to go there, the region has without a doubt a huge Geothermal potential. The economically and technically viable geothermal potential of Central America is estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 megawatts (MW), with advanced technologies even 13,000 – 13,500 MW.

El Salvador has reached an installed capacity of 204 MW for the power market, covering about 17% of the national demand, but the usage of the heat resource itself for other purposes has received little attention. As we, and our partners of the GIZ, are convinced that the, as we call it, direct use of the natural heat is a potent catalyst of socio-economic development in a sustainability framework, we are keen to see the implementation of a few pilot projects on the ground.

Since our partners of the GIZ are active in the Central American region to facilitate the development of Geothermal direct uses within their project GEO II, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in February 2021 to merge our strengths, identify potential blockers and jointly help to implement pilot projects. This trip was undertaken within the MoU and it gave me priceless insights and precious memories.

What was your first impression from this country?

El Salvador is a very rich country: rich of good people. Of course, I am delighted about the amazing landscapes and places I visited, like the wonderful Lago Coatepeque. But it is the people who make up the country. And here I am still overwhelmed by the kindness and openness to me. I can’t wait to return soon and meet my many new friends again.

Tell us more about the IGA and your tasks there.

The IGA is a global non-government organization, uniting the geothermal sector with more than 5,000 members from affiliated countries, institutes & companies worldwide. With our industry partners we set standards, mature the technology agenda and nurture entrepreneurs engaged in clean technology. We represent the global geothermal industry to international organisations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Renewable Energy Agency and the International Energy Agency.

My tasks as the COO of the IGA include the daily business and operations of the IGA. My professional background is in Business Informatics, but I found my passion for Geothermal about 10 years ago. And since then, I am working with the IGA to lift this wonderful treasure under our feet.

Where do you see the global positioning of EL Salvador in geothermal development?

Due to the location within the Pacific Rim volcanic zone, El Salvador and the entire region have a huge Geothermal potential. El Salvador has an estimated Geothermal potential of about 2,200 MW and we expect a massive growth in the utilization of the Geothermal energy. There is a high demand for energy and especially heat in the process industry and in agribusiness. Geothermal can help to create sustainably produced products with a higher market value and will enable the shift from fossil fuel-based production processes to a more renewable and cleaner energy source.

And I think the communities will benefit a lot of a Geothermal utilization, where the new energy offers the establishment of new value chains and can help to simply make their life better by providing e.g. clean and affordable energy to cool their homes

Also, the openness to new technologies - the announcement of president Bukele about utilization of Geothermal Energy to power the Bitcoin Blockchain raised a lot of attention for Geothermal - and combining renewable energy with digital development can help to bring El Salvador on the fast lane of development.

What is the main advantage of geothermal energy compared to other renewable resources?

Geothermal is the 24/7-on renewable energy source and comes with a relatively small footprint. We are a resource-based energy supplier, and the opportunity of using the heat itself for many processes and activities is something that truly sets us apart. At the same time, we are a flexible energy supplier. We work well with intermittent sources such as solar and wind. We balance the intermittency with our baseload capacity and can be switched on and ramped down when daily or seasonal variations are requiring flexibility.

Can you give us some examples geothermal direct use?

Heating & Cooling of buildings, Greenhouses, Aquaculture, Agricultural Drying, Spa & Bathing… there is a wide range of potential applications.

Which national and international companies could be interested in geothermal direct use market?

Any company, that wants to become or stay a relevant player in national or international markets should have an eye on Geothermal, since the source of energy and sustainability of its generation is highly relevant now and in the future. And Geothermal works everywhere.

Of course, the direct use of for e.g. Greenhouses makes it very interesting for the agricultural and food processing businesses. And it opens markets for suppliers like heat pump or heat exchanger manufacturer. But basically, any business can benefit by simply e.g. cooling their offices or data centres.

Which projects do the IGA plan in El Salvador in the future?

With LaGeo, El Salvador has a strong player supporting the Geothermal utilization, hence we will have an eye on and support their activities. And of course, we will support any potential project with our knowledge and expertise from our network.

Moreover, we want to create a coalition of partners in the region, who will collaborate to push geothermal forward, facilitate the frame-working on e.g. legislation, regulation, standardization and create local and international investment opportunities. This will facilitate the Geothermal development in its whole.

But the most important thing is, that all our activities and the utilisation of the geothermal resources is something that benefits people. Geothermal is for the people and amplifies what is already there. A natural treasure ready to shine.

Many thanks for the interview!

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