The future of solar power lights up Chile’s northern desert

International power companies plan to build multi-million dollar solar power farms in the driest place on Earth.  

In an energy-thirsty world, the flawlessly sunny skies of the Atacama Desert beg the question: why not put some solar panels out there?
AES had the same idea. The U.S.-based power producer is already dabbling in hydroelectric power and other renewable energy sources in Chile. Now, AES Gener S.A. has announced its intentions to build a huge solar farm in northern Chile, involving an investment of some US$572 million.
AES currently provides about a third of the region’s energy requirements and has planned a US$2.5 billion investment in Chile through 2017 in order to improve supply.
Meanwhile, permits are pending for Demersol Chile II Spa’s solar panel farm and a gargantuan project by Energias Renovable Fotones de Chile Ltda, which is proposing a US$400 million solar farm.
The burst in solar farm activity comes as Chile’s Congress debates a bill to increase reliance on renewable energy sources and devote US$10 billion to invest in clean energy projects. The proposed law would require Chile to generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which would make Chile a regional leader in commitment to renewable energy.
At the heart of Chile’s largest industry
One happy advantage of putting solar power farms in the Atacama Desert is the proximity to demand: northern Chile is home to most of the country’s mining industry, which is expecting increased demand from overseas markets.
The northern mines of Chile’s thriving copper industry will require an ever-increasing power supply, as a global copper shortage puts more pressure on Chilean resources. Mining companies have already announced a projected budget of nearly US$80 billion in investments in Chile during the next two years.
Elbow-to-elbow with international innovation
Another inescapable benefit from establishing solar panels in Chile is the contact with international entrepreneurs, attracted to the Chilean government’s lauded incubator, Start-Up Chile.
One young entrepreneur from California arrived in Chile last year to launch a solar panel initiative, Aeterna Sol, with innovative new technology. A “modular, cybernetic, and dual-axis tracking technology” makes the solar panels 30 percent more efficient and 50 percent cheaper to install.
All of which could mean good news for a brighter, greener Chile.