Chile reaches 873 MW-AC of solar under construction

2014 may be remembered in Chile as the year when large-scale deployment of solar went from idea to reality. At the beginning of the year, Chile’s Center for Renewable Energy (CER) reported only 6.7 MW-AC of completed PV projects, a number which has increased 50-fold by December to 326 MW-AC.

"2014 has been a breakthrough year, with multiple mining companies and distribution utilities coming to terms with the solar value proposition and signing long-term power purchase agreements,” GTM Research Solar Analyst Adam James told pv magazine. “(Chile) has also been one of Latin America’s most dynamic markets, with a very active pure-play developer market and numerous pipeline acquisitions.”

In November two large PV projects were commissioned in the nation: Total/SunPower and Etrion’s 68 MW-AC Project Salvador and SunEdison’s 72 MW-AC María Elena.

In its December report CER (renamed the Center for Innovation and Promotion of Sustainable Energy or CIFES) also finds that an additional 873 MW-AC of solar projects have begun construction, which includes both PV and concentrating solar power (CSP). This is a near-doubling from the 456 MW-AC of projects that were reported as under construction in November.

Additionally, around 1 GW of solar PV and CSP were contracted in Chile’s energy supply auction in early December, with SunEdison announcing plans to build 350 MW and Abengoa 330 MW. It is unlikely that any of these projects have begun construction, and contracts to supply electricity begin at different times, ranging from 2016 through 2019.

GTM Research expects Chile to install 1 GW-DC of solar during 2015, as Latin America’s largest single market. The company is currently updating its 2016 forecast for Chile following the publication of results from the supply auction.

CIFES reports that solar represented 0.93% of Chile’s electricity generation in November. Once the 873 MW-AC of projects are complete this portion is likely to more than triple to above 3%, and with another 1 GW coming online it should rise to above 5%. This would mean that Chile would be getting the same portion of electricity from solar on an annual basis as Germany currently does.

Overall, “non-conventional” renewables represented 10% of Chile’s electricity generation during November, with the largest sources being wind, biomass and small hydro. This figure does not include large-scale hydro plants.