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Latin America Report: The Future of Solar in Latin America

Where are the most promising solar PV markets in Latin America? It depends on a combination of factors, from solar insolation to electricity costs and PV market maturity, and political factors including the effectiveness of existing policies, what is required for new generation, and various economic and investment risks.

ClearSky Advisors' Mark Bissegger takes a closer look at the best solar countries in Latin America, winnowing the list down to five. Brazil is by far the largest electricity market in the region and has some of the highest electricity rates, as well as support from net metering, tax incentives, and a goal of 27 gigawatts (GW) by 2020, or 16 percent of installed capacity. Chile has pulled back its original renewable energy targets (20 percent by 2020) but still has excellent solar resources, net metering policy, and rising demand for electricity, plus recent droughts have shown a weakness in reliance on hydroelectricity. Mexico has an ambitious renewable energy target (25 percent by 2014, which will require strong policies) and highly variable electricity prices and excellent solar insolation along its West regions. Peru has a relatively mature solar market and a disparate population and transmission across long mountainous terrain lends to distributed solar PV. And the Dominican Republic, which imports most of its energy and has some of Latin America's highest electricity rates, has a strong policy foundation and desire for energy security, and knows what it has to prove from a previous failed FiT program, mainly convincing foreign investors of its bankability and its political stability.


CPV Pilot for Chilean Mining Operation: Soitec and Minera El Tesoro (MET) have built the first pilot plant in South America using Soitec's concentrated solar photovoltaic (CPV) technology, at a remote copper-mining operation in the Sierra Gorda district in Chile's Atacama desert. The project with 64 kWp installed capacity, using four CX-S420 systems with Concentrix CPV technology and two-axis tracking systems, will provide electricity for the site's data center, and will help MET better evaluate using solar technologies in the future.

Tracking Chile's Renewable Progress This Year: Chile connected 145 MW of solar and wind energy to the grid from January through April of this year, roughly 88 percent of the total for all of 2012, according to the Ministry of Energy's Renewable Energy Center (El Centro de Energías Renovables, or CER). April alone saw environmental assessments totaling 333 MW for wind, solar, and hydro projects, and seven projects totaling 243 MW was approved for solar, hydro, and biomass plants.

Brazilian Soccer Stadium's PV Power Online: A 1.4-MW solar array on the rooftop of Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, the nation's second-largest futbol stadium, has officially begun supplying energy to the municipal power grid. The project amounted to a $16.1 million investment, mostly provided through a loan from German bank KfW.

Funds Approved for Brazilian Wind Farms: Regional development agency Superintendencia do Desenvolvimento do Nordeste (Sudene) has approved funding of 478 million reais (roughly US $234 million) for a handful of wind projects in its northeastern region. About two-thirds of the funding, from Fundo de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste will go toward the five "Faisa" projects in the state of Ceara, totaling 136.5 MW of capacity; the remainder will go to three wind projects being developed by Gestamp and Eolica Pedra do Reino SA.

Latin America's Biggest PV Project Adds EPC Partner: Martifer Solar has landed the EPC and O&M contracts for Latin America's largest solar PV project to date, the 30 MW Aura 1 project in Baja California, Mexico. Gauss Energía's project on 100 hectares in La Paz will incorporate 132,000 on single-axis trackers, with production capacity of 82 GWh/year and a PPA with Mexico's Comisioón Federal de Electricidad. Construction is slated to start in August of this year.

Chilean Solar Plant Seeks Funding: SunEdison is seeking funding from the International Finance Corp. for a proposed 50-MW solar plant in Copiapo, Atacama, to be built with c-Si technology from sister company supplier MEMC. The plant hopes to sell power at spot-market commercial rates instead of above-market rates.

Acciona Picked for 210-MW Wind Projects in Brazil: Voltalia has contracted with Acciona Windpower to supply 210-MW of capacity (41 AW 116/3000 turbines and 29 AW 125/3000 turbines) for two wind farm clusters in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte. Construction at the 120-MW Sao Miguel do Gostoso and 90-MW Areia Branca sites will begin in 3Q13, with electricity generation beginning "progressively" in 2014 and 2015. In a nod to domestic content rules, the hubs will come from Acciona's recently opened plant in Simoes Filho (Bahia), and other essential components such as towers and blades will be supplied by Brazilian vendors.

Vestas Makes Inroads into Baja California: Vestas has secured an order for 155 MW of capacity (47 V112-3.3 MW turbines) from Energía Sierra Juarez for a wind farm in Baja California. Deliveries will begin in 3Q14 with the plant expected to be commissioned in 1Q15, with estimated annual production exceeding 517,000 MWh. Vestas had earlier confirmed that the project's construction was suffering "significant delays" because of minority opposition groups.

Bahia State's Wind Supply Chain Nearing Completion: Torrebras, a division of Spanish wind tower manufacturer Daniel Alonso, has opened a plant in Brazil's Bahia region to stake its claim to domestic projects. The 20 million reais (US $10 million) facility in the Pólo Industrial de Camaçari complex near the capital city of Salvador has production capacity of 200 towers annually. All of 2013's capacity is reportedly committed to local projects in the state and the company is already planning to double the site's capacity. With the addition of Torrebras to three nacelle manufacturers (Gamesa, Acciona, Alstom) and incoming blade manufacturer Tecsis, Bahia will essentially have established a core supply chain for wind manufacturing.

Eletrobras, UTE Agree on 100-MW Wind Farm: Eletrobras and Uruguay's UTE have signed a memorandum-of-understanding for a 100-MW wind farm to be jointly operated by both utilities in Uruguay, pending approval of a new transmission line to connect the two countries' power grids.


A Closer Look at Argentina's Solar Development: At first glance, Argentina seems to have all the characteristics of a solar market poised for takeoff in the Latin America region. But ClearSky Advisors' Mark Bissegger takes a closer look at the political and economic risks, and perhaps "misguided" optimism, that keep this country out of the top echelon of Latin America's best renewable energy markets (see lead story above).

Brazil's Indigenous People Embrace Wind, not Hydro: In Brazil's far northern state of Roraima near Venezuela and Guyana are some of Brazil's most windy lands, and the tabletop mountain that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" about a prehistoric microclimate that time forgot. It's also home to the Makuxi indigenous community, which in a country fully embracing hydropower is embracing those local winds instead, as Climate News Network reports.

Chile, Renewable Energy, and Volcanoes: Latin American countries astride the volcanic Pacific zone known as the "Ring of Fire" could tap some significant geothermal energy potential. In that theme, Al Jazeera explores how Chile, which has long studied its geothermal potential, is partnering with New Zealand for experience and inspiration.


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April 2-May 1, 2013 Latin America Report: Thinking Big About Clean Energy and Climate Change

March 7-April 1, 2013 Latin America Report: Weighing Brazil's Domestic Content Provision for Wind Power

Feb. 20-March 6, 2013 Latin America Report: Uruguay, Future Home of the World's Cheapest Solar Energy

Jan. 31-Feb. 19, 2013 Latin America Report: Mexico Just Scratching the Surface of Solar Demand

Jan. 18-29, 2013 Latin America Report: Mapping the Solar Energy Landscape

Jan. 1-17, 2013 Latin America Report : Canadian-Led Consortium Taps Solar Power from Ecuador

Lead image: Silhouette standing in keyhole with sun shining, via Shutterstock

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