Larderello, Tuscany, Italy. Image: Paolo Grassi Shutterstock

The Larderello geothermal power station in Italy is the oldest geothermal power station in the world. Larderello’s facilities are 100 years old.

Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source used in around 20 countries, with a total capacity of more than 13 GW installed worldwide at the end of 2018.

Simply put, geothermal energy is heat from underground. It is found in rocks and liquid under the earth’s crust.

It is achieved by digging wells in underground reservoirs to access steam and hot water to power turbines connected to generators.

Like any form of energy production, it had to start to develop somewhere. Where is the world’s first geothermal power plant located?

Larderello.

Monterotondo-Larderello
Monterotondo, Larderello. Image: Paolo Grassi Shutterstock

In 1818, the merchant Francesco Giacomo Larderel began to work near the town of Montecerboli on the first installations capable of exploiting geothermal waters for the production of boric acid.

The construction of the first geothermal power station is due to Prince Piero Ginori Conti of Trevignano. Conti first worked for his father-in-law Florestano de Larderel in the processing of boric acid.

It was through this work that Conti finally found his way to geothermal energy with the creation of the first geothermal energy generator in 1904. Based on the Lardorello dry current field, Conti’s generator was able to produce 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 station 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 rail system and the nearby towns of Larderello and Volterra.

The factory has been enlarged over the years and now Larderello is made up of 34 factories operated by the Italian company Enel Green Power (EGP). The site’s capacity is now 800 MW and has enabled Italy to become the sixth largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, constituting nearly 2% of the Italian energy mix.

Geothermal energy was born, but the world would wait until 1958 for the second geothermal power plant in Wairakei, New Zealand.

The legacy of Prince Conti.

Thanks to the success of the factory and the death of his father-in-law, Conti was able to take control of the companies and merge them into Società Boracifera di Larderello, which flourished thanks to his support for Benito Mussolini.

When Conti died on December 9, 1939, Nature magazine wrote that:

Italy has lost one of its most energetic industrial figures and the international science that staunchly supports it. Its name will always be associated with the industrial use of volcanic sources in the Lardarello district in Tuscany.

Thanks to its “dynamism” and commercial acumen, these waters were designed to generate electric 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 been producing 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.