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Chile Approves 3.1 GW of Solar PV Projects

A tally of renewable energy projects approved and in development in Chile illustrates the promise of one of the industry's top emerging markets.

The Centro de Energías Renovables (CER), or Renewable Energy Center, in Chile says that over 3.1 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy projects were approved in 2012 through November, and another 908 megawatts (MW) were in qualification awaiting approval. For all renewable energy projects (hydro, wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal), the CER counts 6.7 GW of renewable energy projects approved in Chile, and another 3.8 GW in the wings. Roughly 1.27 GW spanning 10 projects was added in November, an increase of 530 MW over the previous month. (Here's the official document in Spanish.)

NPD Solarbuzz sees Chile as one of the leaders in the emerging Latin American/Caribbean market for renewable energy, particularly solar PV (mainly ground-mount), thanks to a combination of net metering, Renewable Portfolio Standards, and other policies.

Providentially, as another vote of confidence, First Solar has just acquired Chilean project developer Solar Chile, which has various utility-scale projects totaling 1.5 GW in northern Chile, including the planet's highest solar irradiated region, the Atacama Desert. (First Solar's own project pipeline has 3 GW of projects contracted to utilities, 2 GW of that under construction.)

The CER report shows just how far and fast Chile's renewable portfolio is coming along — roughly 4-GW in approved or awaiting-approval solar capacity compares to just 2.4 MW of solar in operation and 2.5 MW officially under construction. For wind, Chile has approved 3.25 GW and has another 2.7 GW in process, but only 205 MW in operation and 107 MW being built. Grand total: over 10.5 GW of projects approved or under assessment vs. 880 MW in operation and 281 MW under construction.


Status of NCRE projects in Chile, in megawatts. (Source: CER)

Here's another illustration of Chile's renewable growth profile (particularly solar PV), comparing CER's data that tracks approved and unbuilt projects from 2009-2012:

"Chile faces a growing energy demand from its sustained economic growth," said Hernán Cheyre, executive VP of CORFO, the Chilean government's economic development agency, quoted in the First Solar-Solar Chile press release. Solar energy in particular has "tremendous potential [to] change the demography and the economy of northern Chile, opening it up to new opportunities beyond mining and fishing, into water desalinization, hydrogen production or large green data centers," added Alvaro Fischer, president of Fundación Chile and an early investor in Solar Chile who will remain as a consultant.

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