Latin America is in the throes of a solar power revolution and Chile is leading the way
Share this on

Latin America is in the throes of a solar power revolution and Chile is leading the way

In late 2015, Uruguay announced that it was producing 94.5 percent of its energy from renewable sources, including solar. Amazingly, Costa Rica has delivered even more impressive numbers.

As is the case with Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay source most of their electricity needs from renewables, which is mostly hydroelectric power. Yet, especially in the case of Uruguay, these Latin American countries are increasingly investing in other renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass.

A towering achievement for solar power in Chile

In terms of solar, Chile is king. Already a leader in the use of solar photovoltaics (PV), the country has upped its stakes in the renewable energy game in a big way with the construction of a 200-meter-tall solar tower. Atacama 1, which is already under construction, soars above an expansive array of 10,600 mirrors, and is expected to generate an impressive 110 megawatts — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Though not the largest solar plant in the world, it is believed that Atacama 1 will be the largest that runs on a single tower. It will also use locally mined salt to power its turbines and store thermal energy.

Roberto Herrera, business development manager of Abengoa, the Spanish firm that owns the Atacama 1, explains (via the Guardian):

The sun and the salt are from Chile. This is one of our selling points — that we provide a stable supply using local resources. This plant is not dependent on imports so there is more security against global price fluctuations and international crises. The marginal costs in Chile are the lowest of any of our power plants … When it is built, we’ll only need 50 maintenance staff … The cost is already at the same level as gas — $120 per megawatt hour — and the idea is for it to fall as the technology improves.

In parts of Latin America, the future is solar

While the success of the Atacama 1 solar plant is not certain due Abengoa’s financial difficulties, there is no denying the potential of renewable energy in Latin America. In the case of solar power, it would be foolish not to exploit the strength of the sun, especially in geographical areas with little other use and where construction will not harm the local ecology.

Combine the obvious availability of solar with its advantages in terms of pollution and climate change when compared to fossil fuels, and investment in technology and infrastructure for Latin American countries has a clear appeal. Solar even has relatively low environmental and social impacts when measured against the large-scale hydro electricity projects that have proven so successful in terms of electricity production in the region.

Despite lagging behind Chile, countries like Mexico, Brazil, Panama and Argentina are also pursuing the energy source. In 2014 solar power in Latin America grew overall by 370 percent.

The Latin American region is the fastest growing market for solar in the world, notably against a backdrop of a worldwide growth in technology as well as low fossil fuel prices.

From the Washington Post:

Orders for 2016 solar and wind installations are up sharply, from the United States to China to the developing economies of Africa and Latin America, all in defiance of stubbornly low prices for coal and natural gas, the industry’s chief competitors.

Chile can also thank a certain giant global tech company for locating its first Latin American data center in the country. Google plans to power its Quilicura facility on 100 percent solar power by 2017.

See also:

Yes – Chile will build a hydropower plant in the desert

Costa Rica survived 100 days with almost 100 percent clean energy