Utility-scale PV in Latin America
Two large solar plants are going up in Chile and the Dominican Republic. The one in Chile's Atacama Desert will be the largest PV plant in Latin America.
US project developer Sun Edison has begun construction of a giant PV plant in Chile. Located in the Atacama Desert to the North, the solar plant will provide power to a nearby mining facility. On 215 hectares outside of Copiapo, installers are putting up single-axis tracking systems for 30,000 crystalline panels. When the plant is completed in the first quarter of 2014, it will be the largest in Latin America with a total capacity of 100 megawatts.
Sun Edison signed alone worth 260 million dollars (196 million euros) for the project, 147.5 of which came from the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) also gave Sun Edison 65 million dollars. The rest of the funding came from the Dutch Rabobank.
Chile is considered one of the fastest growing PV markets in South America. Market analysts believe the sector could post 45 percent growth by 2017. One reason is high power costs; another, the great solar resources, with the Atacama Desert being one of the driest regions in the world. The new PV plant is expected to generate 279 gigawatt-hours in its first year of operation. Any electricity not purchased by the nearby mining firm will be sold to the grid.
German project developer Wirsol is putting up a smaller plant, 64.14 megawatts, in the Dominican Republic. The first section with a capacity of 32.14 megawatts is to be completed this year, making the project the first in the country.
Over the past 10 years, the country has posted strong economic growth even as its population increased. The Dominican Republic currently gets most of its power from diesel and gas. Wirsol says solar power is an inexpensive, sustainable alternative.
The country plans to build even more solar. As Frank Bencosme, Consulate for the Dominican Republic in Madrid, explains, "the government offers tax incentives to promote renewables indirectly." A lot of jobs will be created locally because service providers are doing most of the work. Wirsol Caribbean, the German firm's local subsidiary, will also be handling other projects in the region. (Sven Ullrich / Craig Morris)