Chile’s northern Antofagasta Region, home to the Atacama Desert — the driest place on Earth — has immense potential to produce massive amounts of energy through solar power. Now, thanks to investments from the European Union, that potential is being tapped into with the construction of the largest solar thermal power plant in Latin America.
The proposed plant will generate 110 MW plant of concentrated solar power (CSP) with the ability to store 17.5 hours of power, meaning it will be able to provide energy even when the sun is not shining. The system will utilize a series of mirrors (heliostats) that track the sun as it cross the sky on two axis, and concentrating the solar radiation on a receiver. That radiation is then transmitted to molten salts which then transfer the heat to a water current which generates superheated and reheated steam, used to feed a turbine.
The estimated US$1 billion price tag for the project will be covered by the European Union, the German development bank KfW, and the Chilean government. The Spanish company Abengoa won the contract to construct the ambitious plant. The EU Ambassador to Chile Rafael Dochao noted in a press release he is particularly excited that a European firm will be a part of this project, furthering ties between the EU and Chile.
“We are proud that a European company has been awarded the contract allowing us to share experiences, innovation and technology in Chile. [This opportunity] will also create new jobs in the Antofagasta Region,” Dochao said.
The project will help Chile meet its sustainable and green energy goals. In November 2013 the government announced it was more than doubling its renewable energy goals pushing companies to source 20 percent of its energy intake from renewables such as solar, wind, or tidal power.
The Andean country has the means to fulfil this dream of severing dependence on fossil fuels. Thanks to the arid Atacama Desert, Chile is home to the largest potential resource of solar energy on the planet, and with its extensive coastline the country is also poised to be a leader in tidal power as the technology develops.