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Latin America Report: Solar's Auction Debut in Brazil

After being shut out of previous renewable energy auctions, and delaying its own auction by two weeks, the state government of Pernambuco held the nation's first solar energy auction on December 27, registering 122.82 MW of energy, six times the country's current entire solar energy output (20 MW). The auction involved 34 bidders proposing roughly 1 GW of capacity; at the end it was narrowed to six companies from Brazil, Italy, Germany, China and Spain. Average price of power finished trading at 228.63 Brazilian reais/MWh (just under U.S. $97), about 9 percent lower than the starting price of R 250.

In total the solar-exclusive auction, which had originally been scheduled for mid-December but was pushed off due to heavy interest, is expected to generate just a shade under $600 million in investments, according to the government. Projects must now be developed over the next 18 months in the regions of Santa Maria da Boa Vista, Flores, Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Joaquim Nabucco, and Tacaratu, all with 20-year service contracts.

Note that Brazil's latest A-3 auction held in November, which was dominated by wind energy, ended with average pricing of 124.43 Brazilian reais/MWh, which effectively shut out solar from the process -- and sparked the pursuit of solar-only auctions.

Speaking of auctions, Brazil's national electric energy agency ANEEL held its A-5 auction on Dec. 13 for energy to be coming online starting May 2018. Average pricing was R $109.93/MWh, for generation projects spanning renewables and traditional thermal (coal and natural gas/combined cycle). Wind made up the vast majority of the auction, with 97 out of 115 total projects and 2.3 GW of capacity, followed by small-scale hydro (700 MW, entirely from the Sao Manoel dam) and biomass (162 MW). Brazil's wind energy association said it's tallied 4.7 GW of contracts in 2013, more than double its expectations. And solar was one again shut out.


IN THE NEWS

Enel Chilean Wind Farm Online: Enel Green Power has connected its 90-MW Valle de los Vientos wind farm in Chile's Antofagasta region to the grid. Power exceeding an estimated 200 GWh/year will be sold under a 20-year PPA to the Norte Grande grid (SING).

Renewable Energy in Chile, By the Book: The Renewable Energy Center (ERC) and law firm Morales & Besa have put together a handbook outlining key issues in developing renewable energy projects in Chile, from initial business proposal to analysis of resources, engineering development, permitting, and funding. The country also says it approved 170 MW of solar energy projects in November, a slight increase from October and September (but about a third of the 544 MW it approved in August), bringing the pipeline of approved solar projects to 5.33 GW.

Mitsui Buys into Mexico Wind Project: Mitsui & Co. is acquiring a 50 percent ownership in the company that's developing the 160-MW Santo Domingo wind project in Oaxaca, being built by EDF with Gamesa turbines and slated to come online in April 2014. Arcelor Mittal Lazaro Cardenas and Walmart Mexico are the offtakers for the project under 15-year power purchase agreements. Back in February Mitsui bought a half-ownership in the nearby and similarly sized Bii Stinu wind project

Hydro Funding in Mexico: Mexico's largest EPC firm, Empresas ICA, has received an additional U.S. $147 million payment for its 750-MW La Yesca hydroelectric project, for what it calls "partial settlement for additional work" and paying short-term project debt.

Alstom Secures Brazilian Wind Deals: Alstom has secured a pair of contracts totaling around €400 million to supply wind turbines to Queiroz Galvão for its Caldeirão Grande I and II wind farms in Brazil's northeast state of Piauí state. Delivery is scheduled for between 2015-2017.

Expanding Hydro in Chile: Alto Maipo Spa, a joint venture between AES Gener and Antofagasta Minerals, has secured a $195 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for its Alto Maipo hydroelectric project southeast of Santiago. Once operational in 2018, the project -- actually two run-of-river hydro facilities almost entirely underground, plus new transmission lines -- will contribute an annual average of 2.3 TWh to the grid.

Funding for Chile's Biggest Solar Farm: Total, Etrion, and SunPower have secured a U.S. $140 million loan from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC) for the 70-MWp "Salvador" solar project in the Atacama desert. Construction of the $200 million project is slated to start next month, with operations beginning in early 2015. Etrion owns a 70 percent stake in the project, which will be reduced to 50 percent after its $42 million investment is paid off, and to zero after 20 years of operation.

Hydro Contracts in Peru: Rurelec says its Cascade Hydro subsidiary has won all three hydroelectric power purchase agreements (PPA) totaling 30 MW in a recent government tender. The three plants to be built in Junin province were successfully bid at U.S. $58-$60/MWh.

Hanergy Building Thin-Film Solar Plant in Brazil: Hanergy has agreed to establish a thin-film solar PV manufacturing plant in a technology park in São Leopoldo. Details are scant, but the government says it wants the project underway by April 2014.

Abengoa Eyes Solar PV/CSP in Chile: Abengoa reportedly has filed an environmental impact statement for a combined 210-MW solar project in the Atacama desert. Of the proposed $1.3 billion project to begin construction by June 2015, 110-MW of it would be concentrated solar power (CSP).

Alstom Adds Hydro Equipment in Brazil: Alstom will supply more of its equipment, including turbines and generators, to the Santo Antonio hydro plant in Brazil's north Madeira River, boosting the plant's output by roughly 11 percent to 3.57 GW by 2016.

Biomass vs. Hydro in Brazil: A new benchmark for biomass energy in Brazil was achieved in November: 11.25 GW of installed capacity (across 474 plants), representing more than 8 percent of the nation's generation capacity. That surpasses the projected 2019 capacity of the Belo Monte dam the world's third-largest hydro facility -- and officials say they hope to install twice or three times that amount. Speaking of Brazilian biomass, Canada's Iogen and Brazilian ethanol firm Raízen Energia Participacoes S/A have inked a deal to contribute its advanced celluosic biofuel technology for a $100 million biomass-to-ethanol facility next to Raízen's sugar cane mill in Piracicaba, São Paulo. Operations would begin by the end of 2014 with annual output of 40 million liters of ethanol.


ON THE HORIZON

Mexico Solar Demand Tripling in 2014: Solar PV demand in Mexico will more than triple to 250 MW in 2014, most of it in large-scale facilities in Baja California, according to GTM Research. Mexico is projected to surpass Chile as Latin America's biggest solar market by 2016, on its way to a 300-400 MW market by 2018, the firm says, up from just 70 MW of new installations in 2013. Peru currently has the region's most solar power online with 96 MW.

Ecuador, IADB Target Renewables for Rural Areas: A new pilot project between the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) will seek to develop solar energy for 350 families in the rural Amazon region of Ecuador, in parts of which half the population has no access to electricity.

A DEEPER LOOK

Ways to cut energy costs in Latin America: A panel held in late October in Washington D.C. sought to address ways that Latin America can reduce its electricity costs, which are three to eight times higher than in the U.S. Options discussed: building a regional grid, expand renewable energy production in the Caribbean islands (see above reference to geothermal). They also wrestled over the region's challenges from ramping up production in smaller nations, obtaining financing, and electrifying vast rural areas.

Geothermal in the Caribbean: A tiny island in the Lesser Antilles is the latest to pursue geothermal energy development in the region, with drilling at three of seven potential sites suggesting a potential of up to 500 MW annual baseload power. The island of Nevis with 9,000 residents uses about 10 MW of energy annually, importing 4.2 million gallons of diesel fuel at a cost of U.S. $12 million. Other Caribbean islands are pursuing geothermal opportunities as well: Dominica is building a small plant with aims of a 100-MW one to export to nearby Guadeloupe and Martinique, and St. Vincent is pursuing a $50 million project to tap into the island's estimated 890-MW potential. "We have said consistently that the most important thing the government can do is to reduce the cost of electricity next month -- not two years from now, not five years from now, not 10 years from now," said Barbados opposition leader Mia Mottley.


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Lead image: Rays of sun on a Brazil map, via Shutterstock

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