Venezuela plans its first utility scale PV projects

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Basew Asfur, energy expert and, in his words, “constituent of Venezuela”, has announced the government of the crisis-hit country is considering the construction of wind, solar and hydroelectric projects on a medium scale to strengthen its National Electric System.

The news was announced in a statement by the Venezuelan Television Corporation and Asfur said in a televised interview a wind project is being developed in the state of Falcón and solar energy will also be part of the country’s energy mix. The energy analyst spoke of a renewed boost for Venezuelan solar, despite the fact PV at anything above household level is limited, if not non-existent in the country.

“We are in a tropical area where you can take more advantage of the solar source, these projects are elaborated and there is the Vice-Ministry of Alternative Energies to which the necessary support must be given,” said Asfur, without elaborating further on projects. The energy expert also mentioned the possibility of distributed generation renewables of between 1.5 MW and 3 MW capacity to boost national industry.

Embattled president Nicolás Maduro – who is struggling to retain his grip on power in the face of mass demonstrations and widespread global recognition of his self-appointed presidential rival Juan Guaidó – expressed a desire to promote the solar industry as far back as his 2013 election year. Since then, however, only small, off-grid PV projects in isolated regions have been carried out.

Most of the systems were installed under the “Sembrando Luz” – sowing light – program, which depends on the Fundación para el Desarrollo del Servicio Eléctrico. The program was founded in 2005 by Venezuela’s Bolivarian government “within the framework of the policies of social inclusion and diversification of energy sources, promoted through the VI Joint Commission of [the] Cuba-Venezuela Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement and aimed at serving isolated communities”.

Solar hopes stalled

In 2014, the Venezuelan government said it wanted to install 523 MW of renewable energy capacity in the period up to this year, 478 MW of it wind projects. Since then, however, very few megawatts have seen the light of day.

The nation’s financial and political difficulties have undoubtedly contributed to the slow progress of clean energy in a country already hugely dependent on cheap and abundant oil. This year the Venezuelan grid has suffered four electrical blackouts. The first occurred on March 7 and was the largest in the nation’s history, causing power outages in all 24 states and reaching ​​Boa Vista, in Brazil.

The cause of the blackouts continues to be difficult to identify since the government attributed them to U.S. sabotage. State power company the Corporación Eléctrica Nacional and its ageing electricity network may be a likelier culprit.

A cryptoplan

The Maduro government in March announced a plan to use the El Petro cryptocurrency to finance solar projects in member states of the Petrocaribe alliance of Caribbean states which purchase oil on favorable terms from their South American neighbor. Venezuelan chancellor Jorge Arreaza at the time tweeted: “At the Summit of the International Solar Alliance, chancellor Arreaza announces that the Pdte @NicolasMaduro launches the initiative to finance, through the petro, projects for solar energy. Will have all the logistics and capabilities of Petrocaribe.” Details of the plan, however, remain unknown.

Around 80% of the country’s electric demand is met by the 10 GW Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Plant at Lake Guri, in Bolívar state.