Chile project is latest challenger to title of world’s largest merchant PV plant

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The latest contender to challenge for the title of world’s largest merchant PV plant will be an 80MW project in the Antofagasta region of Chile to be built by Greenwood Energy.

Project Inti, a single-axis-tracked photovoltaic plant, will be built by local company Pacific Solar SA and US-headquartered Greenwood Energy, who announced the unsubsidised plant’s construction at the end of last week.

The significance of the merchant plant business model is that the power output from such plants is sold onto electricity markets without power purchase agreements (PPAs) in place. Built without subsidies in regions where favourable market conditions and solar resources converge, the plants are therefore expected to compete with other power sources, including fossil fuels. Last year, something of a milestone was reached in the US solar industry when First Solar completed the first phase of a large-scale merchant PV plant project in Texas. Merchant plants are starting to spring up elsewhere, with high electricity prices in the Philippines enticing developers to get started there too.

In the example of Chile, electricity generated from merchant plants is sold onto the spot market, where factors like rises and falls in energy demand from the widespread mining operations in the country play a significant role in determining prices. Chile is one of the world’s fastest growing solar markets and with regions that enjoy exemplary levels of solar irradiance and already hosts the current holder of the “world’s largest merchant PV plant” title, a 70MW project built by Swiss company Etrion and completed in November. US company SunEdison is also building a merchant plant in Chile, announcing financial close on its 50MW project in April last year.

Greenwood Energy and Pacific Solar will begin construction of Project Inti during the first half of this year and according to Greenwood, the plant “may go online as early as first quarter 2016”. Greenwood hailed the announcement as evidence of the company’s growing presence in Latin America. Having completed a first large-scale PV plant in Panama and a 40MW plant elsewhere in Chile, the company said it is also aiming to develop some 250MW of commercial rooftop PV plants in Mexico by 2017, all part of a claimed Latin America project pipeline totalling 3000MW. Greenwood is the clean energy subsidiary of multi-national holding company the Libra Group.

Commenting on the new plan, Greenwood Energy's chief executive officer Camilo Patrignani applauded it as proof of solar's maturity.

“The Inti Project is further proof renewable energy is an economic alternative to fossil fuels, reliably meets fast‐growing power demand, and boosts energy independence while cutting emissions across South America,” said Patrignani.

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