Yes — Chile will build a hydropower plant in the desert
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Yes — Chile will build a hydropower plant in the desert

Chilean energy company Valhalla recently received the green light from the government for its Espejo de Tarapaca (Tarapaca Mirror) project, a hydropower plant in the Atacama Desert.

Some people may find it odd building such a facility in the driest place on Earth, but Valhalla cites the Atacama’s exceptional geographic characteristics that will make the project productive.

The $400 million plant will have the capacity to generate 300 megawatts. Hydroworld reported that it will be used to primarily power commercial and industrial clients.

The project will source water from the Pacific Ocean during the day and store it in two natural mountaintop reservoirs, 600 meters above sea level. At night when there is no solar power, the stored water will flow back down into the hydroelectric plant.

“We found these natural depressions that we believe were very ancient lakes, but obviously there is nothing there now, it is a desert, that will allow us to store water,” the company’s co-founder and chief executive Juan Andres Camus told Reuters.

Because of the natural reservoirs, the company no longer needs to build dams, thus lessening construction cost and saving them from getting a government license for the dams.

Complementary project

However, Valhalla’s Cielos de Tarapaca (Tarapaca Skies) project worth $500 million is yet to be approved by the government. The Tarapaca Skies project will provide the energy to pump the seawater to the mountaintop reservoirs.

Should the Tarapaca Mirror materialize without its partner Tarapaca Skies, the result will be counterproductive. The power needed to drive the seawater to the top of the slopes is in fact greater than the power that will be created by the water when it flows down into the plant.

Valhalla is yet to have the funds to build the two projects, and it is now looking for investors and other financiers.

Clean energy solutions

Alternating solar and hydropower will allow the plant to supply clean and continuous energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The project’s timing complements Chile’s commitment to reducing carbon footprints, as Valhalla promises zero carbon emissions.

The 300 megawatts that the project can generate is enough to power three provinces in Chile, and as a country that imports more energy than it generates and mainly relies on fossil fuels, the project cannot come at a better time.

“We are convinced that the Region of Tarapaca can be a leader in solar energy and Chile can become an energy superpower in the world, based on clean, economical and infinitely abundant energy, so it is great news to know that we move to the next stage to realize this project, which will change the face of the energy matrix of our country,” said Valhalla co-founder Francisco Torrealba.

The company also considered the communities surrounding the region by analyzing their concerns and thinking of ways to contribute to the local communities’ growth and development.

Construction is expected to begin in the 2nd half of 2016 and will be operational in 2020.

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