The solar revolution in Chile: never ending projects in the Atacama desert

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ANTOFAGASTA – Just 11 years ago solar energy was not even listed in Chile’s matrix. But amid growing concerns about natural gas restrictions from Argentina, hydroelectric power drying up with the scarce rains, and the dependency on imported hydrocarbons, initiatives got going so that today thousands of solar cells are taking in the rays of the scorching sun between Calama and San Pedro de Atacama. Solar makes up almost 10% of Chile’s energy output and has contributed to lower the risks of energy crises.

“In Chile, we are living a solar revolution,” said Chile’s Minister of Energy Susana Jiménez while visiting renewable energy projects in Antofagasta region.

“This is a region that is ideal for renewable energy. Its matrix is ​​determined mostly by wind, solar and water energy,” she said, reiterating that not only solar power has increased considerably in the country.

Chile started with a solar electricity generation capacity of 11MW in 2013 and increased to 850MW in 2015, under current President Piñera’s first government and Michelle Bachelet’s second. That is, 1MW supplies electricity to 45 Chilean homes a day. If ongoing and proposed projects are added to the matrix, the country will have a capacity of more than 1,700MW.

In addition, Chile is expected to have about 20% ​​renewable energy sources in its energy matrix by 2020, and 70% by 2050.

Chile is Latin America’s top investment destination for renewable energy

Two years ago, the Ministry of Energy released a list of the 10 largest operating renewable energy plants in the country. On the list is the 196MW El Romero plant, the largest photovoltaic plant in Latin America, in Vallenar, Atacama region.

Energy Route

Adhering to the solar trajectory, President Sebastián Piñera started the Energy Route when he returned to power in early 2018. The initiative sets the energy policy for the coming years.

According to Jiménez, the ministry has already formed working groups to improve electricity distribution.

With the initiative, officials also plan to phase out coal-based energy, which currently accounts for 40% of energy production, with the cooperation of the coal companies.

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The desert’s possibilities

Like the international companies that are investing and working in mining in the north of Chile, other international companies are investing in the construction of renewable power plants there. The driest desert in the world’s nearly ever-present sunshine supports countless solar cells. Chile has the highest rates of UV radiation in the word. The best examples of these plants are three new solar photovoltaic projects approved for Antofagasta. They are slated to add additional 215MW.

The desert’s related meteorological conditions also support vast wind farms.

Obstacles facing renewable energy

But even with solar high on the government’s agenda, this form of energy generation faces some obstacles.

One is the high capital cost of installing solar projects, which is also an international issue. The related cost of storage is another.

In addition, most of the solar projects are in the northern part of the country, which is relatively small compared to the rest of Chile. Solar plants rarely appear in the center or south, because of insufficient sunshine and areas that are more densely populated.Nevertheless, the solar revolution is a positive step forward, and it’s part of an overall renewable push that has caught some attention.

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