Chile: a Solar Energy Mine

Published on Thursday, 29 January 2015

According to a recent study by the Chilean Ministry of Energy, the Norte Grande, or the northern region of the country, could soon become a mine of renewable energy production thanks to solar power generation.

The desert areas of Acatama, Arica-Paniracota, Antofagasta and Tarapacá in northern Chile are located at a low latitude and are therefore subject to high levels of continuous irradiation. Due to their location, according estimates made by the Chilean government, the areas has the potential to generate a combined 550 gigawatts of CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) and 1,260GW of PV solar power.

The South American country's solar power growth forecast was confirmed by the International Energy Agency in the Medium Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2014, which ranked Chile alongside North America in terms of potential PV development (more than 5GW of new installed capacity by 2020).

This positive forecast is shared by HIS analysts, who published a white paper a few days ago on their initial predictions for solar energy in 2015. It estimated that among the emerging markets, Chile will follow South Africa, reaching 1GW of installed PV capacity later this year.

The Enel Group is contributing to this growth in Chile through technologies and projects developed by Enel Green Power.

In late December, EGP connected two new solar plants to the country's grid, Lalackama and Chañares, and installed an additional four megawatts at Diego de Almagro, the PV park located in Atacama that is fully up and running and has a total installed capacity of 36 MW. The 225,000 solar panels used for the plant were produced by 3SUN, a company based in the Sicilian city of Catania and owned by EGP. The thin film technology developed by 3SUN is particularly well-suited to the strong radiation present at low latitudes, generating five to eight percent more energy than silicon panels.

The new Lalackama plant, located in Antofagasta, has an installed capacity of 60MW and is EGP's largest solar facility. It is able to generate up to 160 gigawatt-hours per year, equal to the consumption of about 90,000 Chilean households, and as a result avoids the emission of more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The Chañares solar park, which is adjacent to Diego de Almagro, has a capacity of 40MW and can generate up to 94GWh per year, providing energy to about 53,000 households and reducing CO2 emissions 59,000 tons.

Enel's green energy subsidiary invested about US$240 million in the construction of the two new plants.