Larderello, Tuscany, Italy. Image: Paolo Grassi Shutterstock
The Larderello Geothermal Power Plant in Italy is the oldest geothermal plant in the world. The Larderello facilities are 100 years old.
Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source that is used in some 20 countries, with a total capacity of more than 13 GW installed worldwide at the end of 2018.
Simply put, geothermal energy is heat that comes from underground. It is found within rocks and the liquid beneath the earth’s crust.
It is achieved by digging wells in underground reservoirs to access steam and hot water to power the turbines connected to the generators.
Like all forms of energy production, it had to start developing somewhere. Where is the world’s first geothermal power plant?
Monterotondo, Larderello. Image: Paolo Grassi Shutterstock
In 1818, the merchant Francesco Giacomo Larderel began work near the town of Montecerboli on the first facilities capable of harnessing geothermal waters for the production of boric acid.
The construction of the first geothermal power plant is due to Prince Piero Ginori Conti of Trevignano. Conti initially worked for his father-in-law Florestano de Larderel in boric acid processing.
It was through this work that Conti finally found his way to geothermal energy with the creation of the first geothermal power generator in 1904. Based on the Lardorello dry stream field, Conti’s generator has been capable of producing 10 kW. of energy and power five bulbs.
From these humble beginnings, Lardorello’s geothermal potential was expanded in 1911. In an area known as Devil’s Valley, the world’s first geothermal power plant was completed in 1913.
Larderello 1 had a capacity of 250 kW and could produce 2,750 kW of electricity, which was used to power the Italian railway system and the nearby towns of Larderello and Volterra.
The plant was expanded over the years and now Larderello is made up of 34 plants operated by the Italian company Enel Green Power (EGP). The site’s capacity is now 800 MW and has helped Italy become the sixth largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, constituting almost 2% of Italy’s energy mix.
Geothermal energy was born, but the world would wait until 1958 for the second geothermal plant in Wairakei, New Zealand.
The legacy of Prince Conti.
Thanks to the success of the plant and the death of his father-in-law, Conti was able to take control of the businesses and merge them into the Società Boracifera di Larderello, which flourished thanks to his support of Benito Mussolini.
When Conti died on December 9, 1939, Nature magazine wrote that:
Italy has lost one of its most energetic industrial personalities and the international science that supports it with devotion. Her name will always be associated with the industrial use of the volcanic springs in the Lardarello district in Tuscany.
Thanks to its ‘drive’ and its commercial acumen, these waters were made to generate electrical current for transmission to Florence and Pisa, and to produce boric acid, carbon dioxide for industrial use.
Despite Prince Conti’s questionable political legacy, Larderello has produced electricity for over a century and has now become a tourist attraction, with the geothermal areas of Tuscany receiving 120,000 visitors in 2017 alone.