Geothermal Energy in Mexico

Cody Smith
December 18, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Los Azufres III, Phase 1 (Unit 17) geothermal power plant, Mexico. (Source: ThinkGeoEnergy under terms of a Creative Commons license.)

With more and more countries industrializing throughout the world, the search for affordable renewable energy is more urgent then ever. Often times when a country is becoming industrialized and trying to rise from its previous "third world" rating, the easiest and cheapest way to do so is by using fossil fuels. This new added pollution can have a devastating impact for the environment and for global warming, so how do you prevent it from happening? The easy answer is to hope that these countries use renewable energy, but the high prices and limited availability of natural resources that are often required for renewable energy means that many of these countries have to choose which they care about more, the environment or the quality of lives of their people? This Catch-22 often ends up leading many to choose the later, and it leaves our environment in danger. Fortunately, there is a form of renewable energy that is available to everyone and is "fairly" inexpensive, geothermal. There are several countries which are known for utilizing geothermal energy, and one in particular that will be focused on in this paper is Mexico. Mexico is a country that still has a lot of potential for industrialization, and considering it is already seeing the benefits of geothermal energy today, the future for geothermal energy in Mexico is very bright.

How Does Geothermal Energy Work?

Geothermal Energy is created through the decay of radioactive elements which heat rocks below the surface. [1] Water is then either pumped down or trickles down thorough natural cracks in the ground and is heated by the hot rocks, and the it rises to the surface as either hot water or steam which is then used to turn turbines to create electricity. [1] Initially geothermal power plants had to be located near geysers because the rock in those areas was permeable allowing hot water to flow through those areas easily and be heated. [1] Now however, the use of piping and underwater reservoirs allows geothermal energy to be utilized almost anywhere. [1]

Mexico's Current Geothermal Energy Framework

Currently Mexico is the third leading country in the world in Geothermal energy production. [2] This is largely due to the use of 4 major geothermal fields which have been supplying the country with megawatts of power over the past thirty years. [32] Today Mexico has a geothermal installed capacity of 1,017 MWe (megawatts electrical) from about 220 production wells, all of which are owned and operated by the state utility CFE (Comisión Federal de Electricidad). [4] This number accounts for about 3% of all of Mexico's electricity use, which might not initially sound huge but the regional impact is large. In Baja California, the Cerro Prieto geothermal field has accounted for 65% of the regional electricity use, and about 30% of the energy produced in the Cerro Prieto field was transferred to California. [3] The installed capacity of Mexico's geothermal energy has increased 2,500 percent over the past thirty years, and the future of Mexico's geothermal program is bright. [3]

Mexico's Future in Geothermal Energy

Mexico has recently created a new regulatory framework for geothermal energy, and founded a national geothermal innovation center which can help pave the way towards a safe and renewable future for energy in Mexico. [4] Similarly, since all of the plants right now are publicly owned and operated, there is a huge market for privatized energy plants in geothermal energy. In 2014 Mexico approved its first two permits for private developments of small geothermal plants, and the private market geothermal energy in Mexico looks promising. [4]

Conclusion (Why Mexico?)

As Mexico moves forward in increasing its usage of geothermal energy, hopefully other countries central and south America will start to realize the great potential of geothermal energy, and begin to actively seek ways to implement it in their own societies.

© Cody Smith. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B. Mikkelsen, "Geothermal Energy Benefits," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2015.

[2] G. Hiriart, L.C.A. Gutiérrez-Negrín, "Main Aspects of Geothermal Energy in Mexico," Geothermics 32, 389 (2003).

[3] J. Quijano-Léon and L. C. A. Gutiérrez-Negrín, "Mexican Geothermal Energy: An Unfinished Journey," Geothermal Resources Council, GRC Bulletin, September/October 2003, p. 198.

[4] R. Bertani, "Geothermal Power Generation in the World 2010-2014 Update Report," Geothermics 41, 1 (2011).