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Bolivia Plans Wind Power, Other Renewable Energy Build-out

Bolivia hopes to install 700 MW of wind power capacity in the next 10 years as South America's poorest nation works to diversify its energy mix, according to industry observers.

Next year, the nation is looking to build three wind parks with 30 – 50 MW of capacity each, a source familiar with the industry revealed requesting anonymity. The facilities will be built by domestic power company Empresa Nacional de Electricidad (ENDE).

Late last month, ENDE said it was studying the possibility of installing as much as 50 MW in La Paz, Oruro and Potosi but would not provide specific targets. It said the upcoming capacity was necessary to strengthen the national power grid, which is failing to meet growing demand in the central South American country.

Sergio Valda, South America director for Spanish consultancy 3i Ingenieria Industrial, which specialises in renewable energy, said there is enough state interest to build as much as 700 MW of generation capacity in 10 years. Overall, he said Bolivia has the potential for 100,000 MW of wind power capacity.

Valda noted Bolivia is planning installations in La Paz, Oruro and mining city Potosi first because its eastern region has the greatest power shortages. In the long-term, however, the province of Santa Cruz in western Bolivia will likely attract the greatest development.

"Santa Cruz has a lot of potential because it has good flat soil conditions and low altitude with adequate air density," Valda said, adding that the city's winds blow as fast as 9m per second. Overall, the area has the capacity to generate as much wind power as is seen in the best areas of leading global producers such as Spain.  The winds blow 2,500-3,000 hours per year, said experts.

La Paz, the world's highest capital city, is being considered as well because the winds blow as fast as 16m per second there. However, because of the lower density of the air, annual capacity may be limited to 2,000 hours a year, observers said.

"These [La Paz, Oruro, Potosi] are very interesting areas because of the fast wind and available energy infrastructure to connect to the network," Valda noted. "But in the next 10 years, Santa Cruz will probably become a more interesting development alternative."

Ambitious Agenda

ENDE would not return phone calls for this article. Valda said the government is still studying the feasibility of the wind-power expansion and working out how to pursue it as part of an ambitious renewables agenda, which also calls for Bolivia to develop its solar and biomass resources.

Overall, Bolivia hopes to generate 20%-25% of its energy through renewable resources in 2025, Valda said.

The state is expected to unveil its renewables strategy next spring when it plans to hold an auction for local and international developers to build the wind facilities. The state will finance the projects through its own coffers, development-bank loans and other third-world aid.

Bolivia's eastern region currently gets electricity from hydropower plants that become maxed out during the winter months or in dry periods so adding capacity through wind parks there is a government priority. A planned 600-MW hydro facility is also in the works for south of Santa Cruz.  The wind and hydro parks will likely complement that network, sources said.

Export Potential

But Valda noted the future parks' true potential is for export. "Santa Cruz is in Central South America so it's ideally located to export to Southern Brazil and Northern Paraguay where there is no wind-power potential," Valda said. "Brazil has a huge power demand growth so Bolivia is definitely interested in helping supply this."

While Bolvia's breadwinning resource is natural gas, its reserves are not expected to last longer than 60 years.

"The government is finally starting to understand that developing its renewables technology is not just for energy protection but that there is also a great social and economic interest in it," said the first source. Bolivia's Andean mountain chain, with parts of it sitting 4,000m above the ocean, has some of the world's highest solar radiation levels, making it an ideal location to develop solar power, he added.

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