Foreign Investment

Chile’s first solar-powered industrial plant opens in the Atacama

The solar plant supplying power to Codelco is now in business in Chile’s far north. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 Category: Business - Enviroment
Solar panels used in extracting energy from the sun.(nielssienaert/Flickr) Solar panels used in extracting energy from the sun.(nielssienaert/Flickr)

Chile’s Atacama Desert has long been a popular tourist destination and hotspot for mining companies, but much of its potential still remains untapped. The abundant sunshine in Chile’s arid north is, in fact, a resource that scientists have long wanted to use.  The massive northern desert possesses the highest level of solar radiation on the planet, and thus represents the largest potential energy source in the world.


Recently, Spanish multinational company, Solarpack, and Chilean mining company, Codelco, took advantage of this energy source and opened Chile’s first industrial plant powered solely by photovoltaic panels.


Chile’s new plant, known as Calama Solar 3, boasts 1 MW of installed capacity and will supply electricity to the entire industrial complex at Codelco’s Chuquicamata copper mine – the largest open-pit copper in the world.  Moreover, this addition to Chile’s clean energy portfolio will mean an annual reduction of over 1,600 metric tons in Chile’s CO2 emissions.


Chile’s Minister of Energy, Jorge Bunster, attended the inauguration of the plant, along with Codelco President, Thomas Keller, and the General Director of Solarpack Chile, Javier Arellano.


Keller stated that the initiative is a clear sign of their commitment to raise Codelco’s environmental standards and their pledge to improve sustainable development in communities.


Minister Bunster voiced his support by adding, “This is a veritable success in the expansion and use of renewable energy. We hope that it opens the way and creates confidence for the development of new projects to take advantage of the tremendous potential for solar energy in this part of the country.”


Other Uses of Solar Energy in Chile


Not long ago, Chile’s largest fruit exporter, Subsole, paired up with Kraftwerk, a German renewable energy company and created a solar park to supply power to irrigate fruit. The project was in line with the Chile’s stated goal of increasing Chile’s renewable energy by 20 percent by the year 2020.  The fruit irrigation project was considered an ambitious but  manageable target for Chile.


Photovoltaic energy involves the direct transformation of sunlight into electricity at the atomic level. Specific materials exhibit a photoelectric effect that allows them to absorb photons of light and discharge electrons, forming an electric current that can be harnessed as electricity.

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