Last week I mentioned that I would be reviewing the current cleantech environment in Chile. This week, we will discuss the source of Chile’s energy supply with a specific focus on renewable energy. Before we discuss specific types and applications of this sustainable energy, let us first define what we are talking about:
Alternative energy: an umbrella term used to describe any source of energy that can possibly replace existing sources. The motivation for discovering and harnessing such new sources usually centers around avoiding the undesirable side-affects of the existing energy usage.
Sustainable energy: the use of fuel sources to fulfill current energy demands without risking or adversely affecting our future generation’s ability to power themselves.
Renewable energy: energy derived from natural resources that replenish themselves at a high frequency, like solar power (sun), wind power, hydropower (water and tides) and geothermal energy (heat from the earth’s core). Renewable energy is a category of sustainable energy, which is an alternative energy (in this case, sustainable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels).
What Type of Energy Production Does Chile Currently Rely On?
Traditionally, hydroelectric plants were Chile’s major source of electricity delivery. Frequent changes in the environment, including droughts and dry-spells, have encouraged the government to diversify its risks of blackouts and shortages. Currently, Chile’s energy production mix is split roughly 40% hydro and 60% thermal (mostly from burning natural gas deposits – only 20% or so of this is coal-fired), equating a 40/60 percentage split of sustainable / non-sustainable energy. Renewable sources besides hydroelectricity amount for less than 1% of the total installed capacity. Another interesting fact is that Chile does not produce its own natural gas – most of its demands are filled by Argentinian imports.
Types of Renewable Energy Production in Chile
For the most part, the majority of sustainable energy currently produced in Chile is Hydro and Wind-powered, with hydroelectric plants dominating the category. Only recently as January 20th of 2010 was the first wind farm opened by SN Power, a Norwegian company specializing in renewable energy production. The Totoral Wind Farm, located about 300 km north of Santiago, is a 46 MW plant with 23 wind turbines. It should produce around 100 GWh per year. This amount is not much, but it all could change within the next few years.
About a year ago, a company called Mainstream Renewable Partners signed an agreement to develop $1 billion US worth of wind energy production farms in Chile. As they note on their website:
Chile has some of the best wind resources in South America representing a great opportunity for wind farm development in Chile. The Chilean government also recognises the economic, social and environmental benefits of creating this new industry which will have huge positive repercussions for its future. Already, the policy-makers are being proactive in putting the optimum support structures in place and the government’s goal is to source 5% power from sustainable sources by 2010.
Mainstream Renewable Power signed a $1bn joint venture deal with local company Andes Energy.
The joint venture company plans the development of more than 400MW of wind energy in the next five years. (source)
The second most promising type of renewable energy is solar power, specifically solar power provided by photo-voltaic plants. Solarpack, a Spanish company that currently operates four photo-voltaic plants in Spain, has announced that it is developing a 9 MW plant in Calama. The plant will be operating in one of the hottest and driest places on Earth, within the Atacama desert in the northern region of Chile. This new solar plant will be the first of its kind in Chile and should pave the way for more like it.
Next week, we will discuss the specific geographic advantages that Chile’s climate provides for the production of renewable energy.