Mexico, Chile witness green energy surge in year of tough politics

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Chile's 2019 momentum with renewables came in a year when widespread street protests threw the government into chaos. Image credit: Diego Corre / Flickr

New figures suggest two of Latin America’s leading energy markets scored significant renewable victories last year, even as the political environment threatened to put brakes on progress.

Mexican solar witnessed a stellar year as installed capacity boomed 62% between 2018 (3GW-plus) and 2019 (5GW-plus), according to stats recently released by national industry body Asolmex.

Various statistics have documented the rapid growth of Mexican PV after the passing of a landmark energy reform in 2013, enacted by then-president Enrique Peña Nieto.

The 5GW Mexican PV is thought to have reached vastly exceeds the figures from global agency IRENA for the post-reform years of 2014 (116MW), 2015 (173MW) and 2016 (389MW).

The replacement of Peña Nieto by left-wing successor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has acted to paralyse renewable auctions, has piled uncertainty on the future of renewable policies.

Despite some controversial government moves – such as the potential re-opening of old auction PPAs – utility-scale PV activity has continued apace, with large projects rising to the fore.

According to Asolmex, the Central American country was home to 63 up-and-running solar plants as of December 2019, a 63% jump on the 39 operational installations recorded one year prior.

Chile’s RES target within reach five years in advance

Several thousand miles to the southeast, Chile’s renewable sector was also found this week to have enjoyed a strong 2019, even as widespread street protests threw the government into chaos.

New statistics of Chilean green energy body ACERA show installed renewable capacity grew from 5.08GW in 2018 to 5.9GW in 2019, almost doubling the 3.2GW recorded in 2016.

As ACERA noted in a press conference, renewables covered 19.4% of Chile’s electricity generation last year, bringing the 20%-by-2025 government target within easy reach in 2020.

ACERA’s figures show the 2018-to-2019 renewable growth was led by wind power – with installed capacity rising from 1.6GW to 2.14GW – rather than solar, which went from 2.4GW to 2.69GW.

Solar installations could yet gather steam over the next few years, given the bulky pipeline currently under construction in the global PV irradiation hotspot that is the Atacama Desert.

ACERA’s update indicates renewables’ peak last year came at 16:00 on Christmas Day, when led by solar and wind they accounted for a 47.2% power generation share.

Chile’s speedy progress towards renewable goals took place in a year of political upheaval, with millions marching against inequality in protests that prompted talk of a government reshuffle.

A feature examining the opportunities and risks of Brazilian and Mexican PV was part of PV Tech Power's Volume 20, which you can subscribe to here.

The prospects and challenges of Latin American solar and storage will take centre stage at Solar Media's Energy Storage Latin America, to be held in Colombia on 28-29 April 2020.

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