CSP Chile

In my last blog I asked where next for Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) and cited Chile as one of the potential leaders in the future deployment of this most sustainable form of energy generation.

Chile is experiencing rapid economic growth, has a large power hungry mining sector, relies heavily on imported oil and gas and has suffered major electricity blackouts: it is a county that urgently needs more electricity generating capacity. It has huge potential renewable energy resources in all sectors: solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, wave and tidal. Currently 33% of its electricity comes from hydro, but this over dependence on hydro has lead to drought related power cuts. It needs to develop other forms of renewable energy to balance its energy mix, and then eventually to convert much of its hydro to pumped storage, so it can better match supply and demand. Wind and solar photovoltaic are just beginning to take off: so too CSP.

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is perhaps the perfect location for CSP. High altitude, relatively dust free atmosphere and extremely high solar radiation make this the ideal climate. Combine this with mining operations requiring fairly constant 24/7 power indicate that CSP with thermal storage is the best option. A few months ago the El Tesoro Plant opened, providing 14MW of thermal power directly for use in the mines. According to ‘CSP Today’ magazine’s ‘Chile Guide’ three more projects are in the pipeline. The Pedro de Valdivia Plant will have 360MW capacity and use parabolic troughs, the Maria Elena Plant will have 400MW capacity and use four huge central tower receivers and both these plants will use molten salt thermal storage. The Mejillones Plant will be a smaller compact linear Fresnel reflector system used to preheat steam at an existing coal fired power station.

I await developments with interest. It is still early days but it is clear that Chile is one of a list of countries that might well become a world leader in the deployment of CSP.