Chile to receive bids for largest solar project in South America

Energy Minister announces government’s plan to tender construction of 50 megawatt (MW) solar farm in the Atacama Desert. 

Efforts to diversify Chile’s energy matrix expanded significantly this month, with Energy Minister Jorge Bunster pledging a US$20 million (CLP 9.5 billion) grant to go with a US$400 million (CLP 190 billion) loan for the company that wins the 2013 bid to construct the continent’s biggest solar farm.
Currently, Chile’s solar energy generation is at 9 MW, so the new 50 MW project represents a serious commitment to the exploitation of the Atacama’s massive potential in solar energy generation. Perú’s pair of 22 MW solar farms are currently the biggest of their kind in South America.
“Government seeks to reduce knowledge barriers, decrease risk perceptions and support the maturing process of the local market in order to make easier the deployment of solar energy,” Bunster said in his annual public address this month.
The tender is scheduled for the first quarter of 2013, and the winning bid will also receive US$18 million from the European Union, taking the total grant package to US$38 million. The loan money will be raised via the Clean Energy Fund (part of the international organisation Climate Investment Funds), and the Inter-American Development Bank, among other funding sources.
Bunster revealed that the new solar farm will employ concentrating solar power (CSP) technology. CSP concentrates the sun’s rays in order to heat liquid that produces steam capable of powering turbines. CSP cells are cheaper than photovoltaic panels, and are also capable of producing power round the clock by storing energy in molten salts.
While the solar farm’s scale is set to break records, other projects proposed for Northern Chile are even more ambitious. Last October, Irish company Mainstream Renewable Power received clearance from Chile’s environmental assessment agency Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental (SEA) to move forward with plans for the Parque Solar Diego de Almagro – a 162 MW solar park in the northern region of Tarapacá.
Per square foot, the Atacama desert has the highest capacity for solar radiation in the world – more so than the Sahara desert, Arabian desert, or Australia’s Great Sandy desert.
Chile currently generates 873 MW or 4.9 percent of its energy through non-conventional sources. Both the new tender and the Parque Solar Diego de Almagro represent just some of the projects that will aid the government reach its current target of 10 percent renewable energy by 2024.