Panama's first solar plant begins operation

The Central American nation of Panama last week brought online its first PV solar plant – a 2.4 MW installation located in The Sarigua National Park.

The $10 million plant was officially inaugurated by Panama’s President, Ricardo Martinelli, having received a donation of $9 million from Rome-based Enel Green Power and the Italian government. With 11,886 PV panels, the plant is set to provide clean and green solar energy for 2,600 local households, and has already created a number of stable jobs in the nearby community.

Speaking at the plant’s inauguration, President Martinelli announced the possibility of the plant’s further expansion thanks to its location in central Panama. The Sarigua National Park boasts the highest levels of solar irradiance in the entire Central America region, and sits within an arid, sparsely populated area, providing the idea conditions for further PV installations.

Solar power has some way to go towards replacing hydroelectric power as Panama’s chief source of energy. In 2010, the US Energy Information Administration estimated that hydroelectric power accounted for 60% of all electricity generation in the country, with oil-fired thermoelectric plants making up most of the rest. The potential for wind power has been explored with gusto in recent years, too – a 220 MW wind farm in Penonome is due to begin operations later this year, having cost $450 million.

However, or Enel Green Power’s Panama subsidiary – Enel Green Power Panama – this solar PV plant is the first step in a wider plan to develop the country’s solar sector. In total, Enel Green Power Panama has 300 MW of power capacity installed in Panama, which is 23% of the country’s total electricity generation capacity.