PV Talk: Chile on cusp of solar growth, says Enel Green Power



Chile has a PV project pipeline of more than 5GW but only a fraction of that has left the developer’s drawing board. Enel Green Power (EGP) has recently started the construction of the 36MW Diego de Almagro PV project in Chile. Salvatore Bernabei, head of Enel Green Power in Chile and Andean countries told PV Tech how the company plans to get more projects up and running and exploit the region’s abundant solar resources.

PV Tech: What attracted Enel Green Power to Chile?

Salvatore Bernabei: Chile shows excellent potential in solar technology, as it boasts one of the best levels of solar radiation in the world.

PV Tech: What challenges is Enel Green Power expecting specifically for solar projects in Chile?

SB: I expect there to be mainly two factors: on one hand solar technology in this country is quite a new resource therefore we need to win over the initial scepticism brought about by the introduction of a relatively new technology. In my opinion, the best way to demonstrate its competiveness is through facts, that is, by putting in operation solar PV plants.

On the other hand, scarce availability of grid connection in some areas may affect solar development.

PV Tech: What is the environmental permit process like for solar projects in Chile?

SB: Any electricity project over 3MW has to enter the Sistema the Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental (Environmental Impact Evaluation System). To do so, there are two main paths, either a Declaración de Impacto Ambiental, DIA, that is a declaration of environmental impact, in case of minor environmental impacts. Or an Estudio de Impacto Ambiental, an Environmental Impact Study, in case environmental impact is serious enough to need mitigating actions. In the case of the Diego de Almagro Project, a DIA was enough.

PV Tech: What financial plan does Enel Green Power plan to employ?

SB: Enel Green Power’s investment decisions are based on three main parameters: abundance of resources, a favourable macro-economic scenario and increasing diversification to mitigate risks. On the financial side, we fund our growth through internally generated cash flow, which are raised by the company’s balanced mix of renewable energy sources.

When it comes to Chile, the country is blessed by abundance of renewable sources and has the favourable macro-economic scenario that we want.

PV Tech: EGP used a multi-year energy supply contract in Chile, how do they work?

SB: They are legal contracts between an electricity generator and a power purchaser, typically a utility or large power buyer or trader. Contractual terms may last between five and 20 years, during which time the power purchaser buys energy from the electricity generator.

PV Tech: Are multi-year contracts specific to solar in Chile?

SB: Not at all. We have also signed long-term power purchase agreements to sell the renewable energy produced by its power plants in other American states including the US and Mexico.

PV Tech: How big will the Enel Green Power solar plant be?

SB: The plant, named after the Atacama Region district in which it is located, 950km north of Santiago, will have a total installed capacity of 36MW. The photovoltaic park will be composed of about 225,000, mostly thin-film, modules manufactured at the Catania factory of 3Sun, the equal joint venture between EGP, Sharp and STMicroelectronics. Once fully up and running, the Diego de Almagro plant will be able to generate up to 80GWh per year, equal to the consumption requirements of around 45,000 Chilean households.

PV Tech: How will the Diego de Almagro plant be making the most of the Atacama Desert climate in Chile?

SB: As well as the thin-film technology we are also using polycrystalline modules installed on mono-axial trackers, to analyse performance of both technologies for future investments.

PV Tech: Is EGP working with any mining firms as other large solar companies are doing in the country?

SB: We undertake a constant dialogue with several mining companies as they are major electricity consumers, especially in the north of the country.

PV Tech: What predictions does Enel have for the future in Chile, with regards to its solar industry?

SB: The resource potential is extremely good. We can definitely say that the solar industry took off in Chile. At the end of 2012 only 3.6MW were in operation, currently solar operators in Chile are constructing more than 120MW. We believe that the growth will continue in the medium term also supported by the development of the Chilean grid, which has already planned for the coming years.

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