The Atacama Desert receives the highest solar irradiation in the world and has a high average number of sunshine hours in a year. Both conditions are the best for the development of a solar industry. Hence the importance of visiting the desert by national and foreign entrepreneurs, investors and academics, who were part of the first Solar Field Trip organized by the Chilean Solar Energy Program.
The delegation visited three solar power plants located in the Region of Antofagasta, in addition to a lithium plant in the Atacama Salt Flat (Salar de Atacama).
The Cerro Dominador complex was the first plants visited and currently it is under construction by the company EIG. Cerro Dominador has two technologies: photovoltaic and concentrating solar power. This plant has a capacity of 210 MW (110 in tower technologies and 100 in photovoltaic) and a storage system of 17.5 hours.
The trip continued at the Sunedison Chile´s María Elena plant, which has a capacity of almost 73 MW, and ended at ENEL Green Power’s Finis Terra Plant (160 MW).
The representatives valued the solar field trip because they said that allowed to know the potentialities and the challenges that the Chilean desert presents. “We got to know three interesting developments that have already experienced the conditions of the desert,” said Rafael Burgos, Representative of Ferrostaal.
During the tour, they were able to observe some of the situations that the plants have to face today as the soiling in the panels, the high temperature reaching the modules and the extreme UV irradiation, which is also a problem, because it reduces the life of components such as cables, which in some cases must be replaced every six months.
Finally, the Atacama Desert Solar Field Trip 2016 ended with a visit to the Rockwood Lithium Chile plant, located in Atacama Salt Flat, where the representatives were able to learn about the lithium production process.
In this way, the participants knew about the growing solar generation industry in Chile, and they were able to measure the opportunities that their institutions has in the area. Furthermore, they established networks for presenting projects to the CORFO calls to develop photovoltaic systems adapted to the extreme desert conditions. “This trip allowed us to see on the ground the reality of our desert and to generate networks that will undoubtedly, create alliances between the national manufacturing industry, R & D entities and the public sector. Everything with the view of developing more technologies more appropriate to our conditions, “said Rodrigo Mancilla, Executive Director of the Chilean Solar Committee, organism that carries on the Chilean Solar Program.
CORFO PROJECT OPORTUNITY
The objective of this Solar Field Trip was to know in the field the opportunities of the Chilean desert, as well as its challenges, with the goal that organizations participate in the call for the CORFO technology program called “Development of Photovoltaic Solar Energy Technologies for Desert Climates and High Radiation “, which invites to develop technologies that respond appropriately to the conditions of desert and high irradiation areas, such as the Atacama Desert.
The CORFO program supports collaborative projects between companies and technology centers, which focus on applied research in photovoltaic systems, and contribute with a co-financing of up to 70% of the total cost of the awarded project, with maximum of U$12 million, under the modality of non-refundable subsidy.
Applications for this program will be close until March 30, 2017.