The First Geothermal Plants Around The World

The Matsukawa Geothermal Power Plant – The first geothermal power plant in Japan. Photo courtesy of Dr. Roland N. Horne

The utilization of geothermal resources to produce electricity has been increasing since the invention of the first geothermal energy generator by Piero Ginori Conti in Italy in 1904.

By 2021, there are more than one hundred geothermal power plants located around the world producing electricity with a total installed capacity of 15854 MW.

Want to know when and where the first geothermal power plants were set up around the world?

Here are the first geothermal power plants built in significant geothermal energy-producing countries.

THE LARDERELLO PLANT – ITALY – 1913

The first and the oldest geothermal power plant in the world is in Larderello in Italy.

Following the invention of the first geothermal energy generator by Piero Ginori Conti in 1904, the Larderello 1 geothermal power plant was completed in 1913 with a capacity of 250 kW.

The Larderello area now has 34 geothermal power plants having a total capacity of 800 MW.

By the way, the Larderello steam field is so awesome that it is referred to as Valle del Diavolo – Devil’s Valley.

Today, Italy has a total installed capacity of 944 MW making it the seventh-largest geothermal energy producer in the world.

WAIRAKEI PLANT – NEW ZEALAND – 1958

New Zealand is the second country in the world that built a geothermal power plant.

The first geothermal plant in New Zealand, the Wairakei Unit 1 station was completed in 1958 with a capacity of 11.2 MW. The Wairakei geothermal plant is located at North Taupo.

Currently, New Zealand has 15 geothermal power stations having a combined capacity of 1037 MW making it the fifth-largest geothermal producer in the world.

THE GEYSERS UNIT 1 PLANT – The US – 1960

The first geothermal power plant in the US is located at the Geysers. The Unit 1 plant was completed in 1960 with a capacity of 11 MW.

The Geysers geothermal field in California is the most prolific geothermal producing field in the US also in the world. It now has 18 geothermal power plants and a total installed capacity of 1590 MW.

Today the US with more than 69 geothermal power plants located in various states has a total installed capacity of 3722 MW. This makes the US the biggest geothermal energy producer in the world.

MATSUKAWA PLANT – JAPAN – 1966

The first geothermal power generation plant in Japan is the Matsukawa Geothermal Power Plant (Matsukawa Jinetsu Hatsudensho).

The plant started operating in 1966 with an initial capacity of 9.5 MW. It now has an installed capacity of 23.5 MW.

Today, Japan has more than 20 geothermal power plants operating in 18 locations producing 603 MW of electricity making it the tenth-largest geothermal energy producer in the world.

BJARNARFLAG PLANT – ICELAND – 1966

Bjarnarflag geothermal station is the oldest geothermal power plant in Iceland. Bjarnarflag was completed in 1966 having a capacity of 3 MW.

Following the success of the Bjarnarflag plant, several other power plants were built in Iceland.

Iceland, the land of ice and fire, is a natural place to tap its geothermal resources for energy. The country today produces 754 MW of electricity from its geothermal resources making it the ninth-largest geothermal producer in the world.

As 99.96% of its energy needs come from renewable resources, it is probably the greenest country in the world.

CERRO PRIETO PLANT – MEXICO – 1973

The first geothermal power plant in Mexico, Cerro Prieto 1 was commissioned in April 1973.

The Cerro Prieto field is the world’s largest known water-dominated geothermal field. It has five power stations with a total installed capacity of 820 MW.

Today, Mexico, generating 963 MW of electricity is the sixth-largest geothermal energy producer in the world.

KIZILDERE PLANT – TURKEY – 1974

The first geothermal power plant in Turkey is in Kizildere.

The Kizildere geothermal power plant began its operation in 1974 as a prototype system with a 500 KW capacity.

Ten years later, the Kızıldere Jeotermal Elektrik Santralı plant was commissioned in 1984 with an installed capacity of 17.4 MW.

In 2013, the Kizildere Geothermal Power Plant reached an installed capacity of 95 MW making it Turkey’s biggest.

Today, with a total of 1710 MW capacity, Turkey is the fourth largest geothermal energy producer in the world.

AHUACHAPAN PLANT – EL SALVADOR – 1975

The first geothermal power plant in El Salvador is located in Ahuachapan. It was built in 1975 with a capacity of 95 MW.

The second geothermal plant in El Salvador, the Berlin Power Plant, was later built with an installed capacity of 109 MW.

Currently, with a total capacity of 204 MW, geothermal energy generates 20% of the total energy needs in El Salvador.

The contribution of electricity from geothermal resources is set to increase in the future and two new geothermal power plants are scheduled to come online in 2023 and 2026 in the San Vicente and Chinameca fields.

LEYTE PLANT – THE PHILLIPPINES – 1977

The first geothermal power plant in the Philippines, the Leyte Geothermal Power Plant began operation in 1977.

Located on the island of Leyte, the plant started as a pilot plant using a portable 3 MW power generation unit connected to a wellhead.

With the success of the pilot plant, Leyte island now has five geothermal power plants.

Other geothermal plants in the Philippines are in the islands of Luzon, Mindanao, and Negros.

Today the Philippines with a total installed capacity of 1918 MW is the third largest geothermal energy producer in the world. 

OLKARIA I POWER STATION – KENYA – 1981

Olkaria I Geothermal Power Station is the first geothermal power plant in Kenya and Africa. The first unit having a capacity of 15 MW was commissioned in 1981.

Several units were added to the Olkaria I facility in later years bringing its total installed capacity to 185 MW by 1985.

Today Kenya has a total installed capacity of 861 MW making it the eighth largest geothermal energy producer in the world.

KAMOJANG PLANT – INDONESIA – 1982

Operating since 1982, the 235 MW Kamojang geothermal plant is the first geothermal power plant in Indonesia. It is located in the Garut area in West Java.

The Kamojang geothermal reservoir was first discovered by the Dutch more than one hundred years ago when it successfully drilled the first steam-producing well in Indonesia.

Today Indonesia has a total installed capacity of 2276 MW making it the second-largest geothermal energy producer in the world.

MOMOTOMBO PLANT – NICARAGUA – 1983

The Momotombo plant is the first geothermal power plant in Nicaragua.

Its first power generating unit of 35 MW was completed in 1983. A second 35 MW unit was later added in 1989 bringing the total capacity to 70 MW.

Nicaragua’s second geothermal plant is the San Jacinto Tizate which was completed in 2013 with an installed capacity of 72 MW.

MIRAVALLES PLANT – COSTA RICA – 1994

The first geothermal power plant in Costa is the 55 MW Miravalles plant commissioned in 1994.

Today with a total installed capacity of 207 MW, Costa Rica is the twelfth largest geothermal producer in the world.

ORTITLAN PLANT – GUATEMALA – 1998

The first geothermal power generation unit in Guatemala was built in Amatitlán geothermal area in 1998. It started as a portable power plant of 5 MW.

A full-scale 20 MW geothermal power plant, the Ortitlan, was later built in the Amatitlan area in 2008.

Guatemala’s second geothermal plant, the Orzunil, located in the Zunil geothermal area was completed with a capacity of 24 MW in 2001.

CERRO PABELLON PLANT – CHILE – 2017

The first geothermal power plant in Chile was built in 2017 by Geotermica El Norte, a joint venture between Enel Green Power Chile and ENAP.

Located at 4500 meters above sea level, the Cerro Pabellón is the highest geothermal plant in the world. It is located on the high plateau of the Atacama Desert in the Antofagasta Region of Chile.

The plant, which uses high enthalpy technology with a binary cycle, is the only operational geothermal plant in South America.

Its third power station with a capacity of 33 MW was completed in 2021 giving Cerro Pabellon a total power of 81 MW.

PLATANARES PLANT – HONDURAS – 2018

The first geothermal power plant of Honduras, the 35 MW Platanares geothermal plant was inaugurated in 2018.

CASANARE PLANT – COLOMBIA – 2021

Colombia inaugurated its first geothermal power unit located in Casanare in March 2021.

The first of its kind, this innovative 100 KW power unit takes advantage of the hot water produced along with the oil from the Las Maracas field.

EPILOGUE

The world is endowed with huge geothermal resources. As the world marches toward net zero-emission, we shall see the application of geothermal energy as a renewable resource to generate the electricity we need will continue to expand.

Indonesia inaugurated two geothermal plants in 2021: the 45 MW Unit II Sorik Marapi Geothermal Power Plant on 28 July 2021 and the 98.4 MW Rantau Dedap Power plant on 26 December 2021.

This article is written by Jamin Djuang – Chief Learning Officer of LDI Training – based on information from various sources.