Chile relies on renewable energy

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The solar tower Cerro Dominador rises above the Chilean desert of Atacama – a vivid picture of the challenge of a South American country striving to achieve the most ambitious goals in the field of renewable energy in the world.

Chile, preparing to host a major UN conference on climate change in December, has already promised to stop the use of energy in coal-fired power plants by 2040 and by 2050 come to zero carbon emissions. But in an effort to force other countries to make far-reaching promises, Chile is looking for ways to propose its own terms.

The influx of cheap solar panels from China in recent years will completely allow the country to achieve its goal: by 2025, begin to receive 20% of the power from renewable energy sources.

The key challenge Chile is facing now is to learn how to conserve and transfer abundant reserves of solar and wind energy for 24 hours. This would enable Chile to leap for 60% of its energy from renewable energy by 2035 and 70% by 2050. Cerro Dominador is a $ 1.3 billion project announced in 2013 that will increase supply stability renewable energy.

The advantage of Cerro Dominador is that – unlike traditional photovoltaic solar or wind power plants, which are capable of generating energy while their energy source is shining and blowing – it can accumulate solar heat to generate electricity for several hours, including at night.

This is the first Latin American enterprise to use Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technology.

The government and industry called this project a key factor in Chile’s promise to abandon the use of imported fossil fuels and large hydropower plants.

Cerro Dominador uses tens of thousands of turning mirrors that reflect the sun’s rays to the area where they are converted into thermal energy using a heat storage system.

During the launch in 2014, the executive director of the Spanish-based Abengoa project company told its audience that Cerro Dominador would reduce CO2 emissions by 643 thousand tons per year and support the Chilean government’s commitment to using clean, competitive and sustainable energy.

“If Chile builds 112 such plants, it will gain autonomy in energy issues,” said Manuel Sanchez.

But two years later, Abengoa was close to bankruptcy and was forced to sell Cerro Dominador. The construction of the plant slowed down while searching for new customers. The delay was expensive.

When the plant was revived last year thanks to the financing of banks, the Chilean state and the American private equity company EIG Global Energy Partners, it was no longer competitive.

According to Christian González, a coordinator of projects in the field of solar energy, the market was flooded with cheap solar panels from China, which helped accelerate the achievement of Chile’s goals. But the products of Cerro Dominador were only useful half a day.

Corfu’s Solar Energy Committee said five power plants with planned capacity of 70 to 450 MW received environmental permits approved over the past 4 years. However, since then, three of them have been canceled without giving reasons. The fourth permission was revoked, but recently restored by EIG.

“Today it is economically unprofitable to generate energy using CSP during the day, because you can use photovoltaics for this, and it is much cheaper,” Gonzalez said.

He called for more modest CSP installations, which make up a smaller part of the energy balance. They would only provide power when other sources were turned off.

The prices that Abengoa agreed on in the supply contract were 3 times higher than today.

Maria Isabelle González of Energetica said the deal was “unfeasible” in the modern renewable energy market with its high competition.

Against the backdrop of an impressive tower that rises 250 m (820 ft) above the dry desert, the Cerro Dominador solar power plant is operating, but its CSP installation, costing $ 1 billion from the initial costs, will not be fully commissioned until 2020.

Cerro Dominador CEO Fernando Gonzalez said during a site inspection in July that this plant would not be rebuilt.

“We expect future plants to be much more competitive in market conditions and in terms of technological progress,” he said.

A company spokesman said the investments were made taking into account long-term and future government auctions, adding that as a result of lowering the cost of technology and construction work, the second such development should become competitive.

Chile’s electricity generation matrix relies mainly on imported fossil fuels, coal, natural gas and oil (55%), and its own hydropower plants (30%). Nevertheless, in recent years, the number of non-traditional energy sources has sharply increased: solar farms accounted for 6.5% of the matrix, wind energy 5% and biomass 2.1% in 2018.

But CSP is not the only technology associated with the use of renewable energy sources. There was great unrest when the Espejo de Tarapacá, 100 km (62 miles) from Iquique in northern Chile, was declared an innovative power storage plant.

Its environmental permit was approved in 2015, the project was supposed to come into effect this year. However, amid rising costs, he was stopped. Now it is in the stage of “financial restructuring,” said project head Juan Andres Camus, adding that construction should begin next year.

Analysts and experts say Chile needs small, flexible, and diverse projects that provide a stable network and can reduce emissions.

But without the direct subsidies that other governments use to invest in technological development, the Chilean government should hope that its open market approach will help it achieve its clean energy goals.

Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobe said the government has no particular preference for renewable energy technologies, provided that they are value for money.

“The problem is that they have to offer energy around the clock and at a reasonable price,” he said.

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