Solar aspires to capture Colombia’s energy future with 9.47GW pipeline

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Celsia, the developer of the 9.9MW PV plant pictured above, was among the operators telling PV Tech last year they had faith in Colombia's odds of solar success. Image credit: Celsia

The campaign to drive solar growth in one of Latin America’s less-explored markets appears to be bearing fruit, with gigawatts’ worth of projects coming forward over the last year alone.

New figures from Colombia’s planning body UPME show a 9.47GW pipeline of solar is currently registered as underway, following a surge in project proposals between 2018 (389MW), 2019 (7.85GW) and Q1 2020 (1.2GW).

The analysis indicates solar developers formally launched 120 ventures in 2018, coupled with 210 in 2019 and 11 in Q1 2020. The total of 341 means nearly 70% of all energy projects currently recorded by UPME are solar related, far above hydro (24.7%), wind (3.82%) and thermal power (2.2%).

In capacity terms, Colombian solar’s current pipeline of 9.47GW is more than half the 18.3GW across all energy sources, including hydro (4.4GW), wind (2.5GW) and thermal power (1.9GW). At 5.8GW, over 60% of all solar capacity under planning lies in five departments in the north and northeast.

The concentration of solar ventures (see table below) in areas such as La Guajira, Santander or Cesar mirrors the higher irradiation found in Colombia’s Caribbean Northeast, with Energy Ministry charts describing daily averages of 5.5 to 6KWh/m across the area.

Top five locations for Colombian solar projects

Department La Guajira Santander César Córdoba Cundinamarca
PV capacity put forward 1.84GW 1.44GW 1.31GW 619.4MW 585.6MW
PV projects put forward 13 23 26 16 18
Source: UPME

Larger PV beckons as Colombia enters global green stage

In Colombia, the avalanche of solar project plans emerges after a watershed 2019 on the renewable front. After months of delays over anti-trust concerns, the Andean state held last October its first ever large-scale green energy auction, awarding 1.3GW to solar and wind applications.

From IRENA’s estimates of 87MW in cumulative PV capacity at the end of 2018, the country has witnessed the advent of larger ventures. In 2019 alone, projects were put forward by at least Cubico-Celsia (400MW), Invenergy (400MW), Diverxia (240MWp). Along with Chile, the country will host a 1.6GW new pipeline of renewables by Santiago-based developer AES Gener.

Judging by UPME’s new figures, larger solar projects may become the norm in Colombia. At 5.32GW, more than half the current pipeline of 9.47GW are ventures of 100MW or more, overtaking applicants in the ranges of 50-100MW (2.09GW), 20-50MW (371MW) and all other categories.

Colombia’s auctioning efforts at home have been accompanied by lobbying abroad to keep up the green energy momentum. With Chile, the country is coordinating a joint plan – launched at last year’s UN climate talks in Madrid – for ten Latin American and Caribbean states to reach an average 70% renewable share by 2030.

Last May, a PV Tech Power feature examined the odds of success of Colombia’s renewable plans, a push meant to diversify a hydro-reliant, climate-vulnerable energy mix. From trade body SER to developer Celsia, the operators approached were largely supportive of the government’s actions.  However, some flagged the need for grid upgrades in the high-irradiance, poorly linked north region.

The feature examining the opportunities and risks of Colombian PV was part of PV Tech Power's Volume 19, 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 on 23-24 June 2020.

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