Going green

New online tool allows users to measure solar potential in Chile

Solar Explorer assesses solar potential by location across the country, helping people to tap into one of Chile’s most abundant renewable resources. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 Category: Education - Technology
The Atacama, already home to the world’s most sophisticated astronomical hardware and a booming mini The Atacama, already home to the world’s most sophisticated astronomical hardware and a booming mining industry, could be the site of a major solar energy boom. Photo courtesy of the European Southern

Data collected by Chile’s Ministry of Energy and the Universidad de Chile has been collated into an innovative new online tool that represents a huge step forward in Chile’s efforts to go green.


Called Solar Explorer, it allows users to click on a map of Chile at any location and immediately have access to a wealth of information regarding solar energy in the area. Users can assess annual fluctuations in solar irradiance, cloud cover, temperature, wind levels, and albedo (the reflective power of a surface).


Crucially, users are also informed of the level of direct solar irradiance a given area receives in kilowatt hours per square meter per day, which allows one to assess how much energy a solar photovoltaic panel could generate over a twenty-four hour period.


Chile’s capacity for solar energy is immense, as the Atacama Desert in the north of the country has optimal conditions for generating solar energy, with high radiation, low humidity, and almost zero cloud cover year round. The Atacama receives more solar irradiance per square meter than anywhere else in the world, including the African Sahara, the Arabian Desert, and Australia’s Great Sandy Desert.


In fact, the Desert’s solar potential is so great that a report published last year by the Global Energy Network Institute concluded that the entire country’s energy needs could be generated by harnessing the solar irradiance in just 18.25 square miles (47.27 km²) - or a 9,454 football fields - of the Atacama.


Up until now this potential has remained largely untapped. Without its own oil reserves, much of Chile’s domestically generated power comes from hydroelectricity. But with an increasing energy demand and seasonal water shortages, the country is very interested in diversifying its energy resources.


The Chilean government has stepped up to this challenge by setting a target to generate 20 percent of the country’s energy needs through “non-conventional” renewable resources by the year 2020.


You can visit the website to learn more about Solar Explorer. 

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