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Latin America Report: Mapping the Solar Energy Landscape

Latin America and the Caribbean has long been viewed as a key growth region for renewable energy. More than 450 MW of grid-connected solar photovoltaics are anticipated to be installed in 2013, up from 100 MW in 2012. More than 8 gigawatts (GW) of large-scale solar projects have been announced in the past year; annual installations will exceed 5.7 GW by 2017, bringing cumulative grid-tied solar capacity to 13 GW over that five-year period, according to GTM Research, which outlines the market opportunities for solar energy in Latin American markets in a new report.

Most solar energy production in Latin America is distributors serving the off-grid market, with little grid-connected solar installed. Few pure-play solar companies operate in these regions, which is why they are so attractive to solar project developers. There are still domestic firms in similar industries, though, that could transition over into solar — and "local knowledge has proven more valuable than solar-specific experience when operating in the region," points out GTM solar analyst Andrew Krulewitz.

Chile, Mexico, and Brazil have the most potential for near-term growth in the region. Most of this year's 450 MW of grid-connected solar PV in 2013 will be large utility-scale installations in Mexico and Chile. Brazil will see a number of megawatt-scale R&D projects connected, with initial growth in distributed markets as interconnection and net-metering procedures are adopted.

Other takeaways from the GTM report:

  • Chile has the largest solar pipeline in the region: 6 GW of announced projects, of which just 10.8 MW is operating, and 22 MW under construction. (Over 3 GW of solar projects were approved in 2012, with another 900 MW in qualification.) Hurdles to overcome over the next few years include a complex electricity market structure, hesitancy from large offtakers, and subsequent lack of financing.
  • In Brazil, new net-metering legislation promises to jump-start the distributed generation market, but more than 2 GW of large-scale solar projects have been proposed, and many sub-1-MW projects are being lined up ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
  • Mexico, unlike Chile and Brazil, already has a framework in place for both distributed and utility-scale solar energy generation. Net metering was enacted in 2008, which "immensely simplifies development throughout the country," notes GTM. Meanwhile, "independent power producers (IPPs) have been gaining a foothold, especially with regard to renewables" — the report cites two pilot projects built by national electric utility CFE, and a signed power purchase agreement (PPA) with a 46.8-MW project being developed by Sonora Energy Group.

Outside those three countries, there is ongoing development in other markets such as Peru, Ecuador, and Caribbean island nations. Each national market has different characteristics in energy policy, generation resources, and economic strength, but key commonalities include significant solar resources, high electricity prices, and growing electricity demand.


US Ex-Im Bank backs 500-kW project in Mexico with Suniva Modules: The US Ex-Im Bank will guarantee a $780,000, 10-year loan from UPS Capital Business Credit to help support one of the largest rooftop solar projects in Mexico, being built with Suniva's crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar PV modules. Grupo Metal Intra S.A.P.I. de C.V. (GMI), a prefab building company, is putting the 500-kW installation on the roof of its main production plant in the city of Querétaro to generate 50 percent of its electricity needs and reduce overall energy costs by at least 15 percent annually. Ex-Im Bank's medium-term guarantee will also support approximately $130,000 of related local costs.

Germany's Nordex Supplying Uruguayan Wind Farm: Nordex SE will supply 21 turbines for a 50.4-MW project in the Florida district of southern Uruguay, about 100 km from Montevideo. The N117/2400 2.4-MW wind turbines on 91-meter towers are designed for high yield in light wind regimes, according to the company. Electricity will be deployed by the state power company (Usinas y Trasmisiones Eléctricas) under a 20-year PPA with Akuo Energy.

Jamaica Gets 85 Inquiries for Renewable-Energy Auction: Jamaica's government received 85 inquiries from developers that may participate in an auction for new renewable-energy capacity, according to the Jamaica Information Service citing the Office of Utilities Regulation. The bid for 115 MW of capacity, is aimed at helping Jamaica meet its projected energy demand in 2015.


Cheapest Wind Energy Spurring Renewables Deals in Brazil: Acquisitions of renewable-energy companies in Brazil sunk 60% in 2012 to a four-year low, but will rebound in 2013 as wind-farm developers seek buyers and European companies expand, reports Bloomberg. Most of Brazil's ~80 wind farms were built within the past four years, and firms will have to scale up to be profitable after agreeing to sell power for record low rates at a December auction. Utilities in Brazil may consider buying stakes in wind developers; smaller developers are seen struggling the most.

Atlantic Wind Plans $150 Million of Solar Plants in Ecuador: Tucson, Arizona-based Atlantic Wind & Solar has won permission to sell electricity from two solar power plants in Ecuador at $400 a megawatt-hour (MWh), four times the rate of hydropower. The plants, planned for the northern towns of Lagarto and Tonchigue, will total 58.4 MW of generation capacity and sell the power to the Ecuadorean government. Ecuador is seeking to get 6 percent of its power, or about 300 MW, from renewable sources.

Banco do Brasil to Lend $734.5 Million for Wind Farms: Latin America’s biggest lender by assets may disburse more than 1.5 billion reais ($734.5 million) of loans for wind farms this year, up from 1.3 billion reais last year, as the renewable energy becomes cheaper. The total amount will depend on how many wind developers sell energy in government-organized auctions for new power capacity this year. The bank has lent more than more 1.5 billion reais to hydroelectric projects since 2010.


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Lead image: Globe (NASA/Visible Earth), via Shutterstock

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