RENEWABLE ENERGIES IN THE ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE

With 53 percent of generation capacity from renewables, Latin America is leading the global green energy movement. The enormous potential and rapid spread of renewable energy in the region has fueled hope of a global transition to a low-carbon economy. Technological innovations have increased efficiency and reduced costs boosting the grid competitiveness of renewables at the point that solar energy may be cheaper than coal globally by 2025, or earlier. Following the revolutionary shift in 2015, when renewables surpassed coal as the world’s largest source of installed power capacity, new wind and solar installations set records in 2017. Over the next five years, renewables will remain the fastest-growing source of electricity and the benefits are significant, becoming the practical first-choice option for new energy generation. The Chilean solar plants are emblematic of the region’s vast renewable energy potential, with a combination of national policies and new finance mechanisms. With over 6,000 km of coastline, 123 active volcanoes and numerous deserts and mountains, Chile’s renewable energy market is teeming with potential. Despite having a relatively small energy market, it’s considered by many to be one of the world’s top renewable energy markets with an ambitious target to produce 70 to 100 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by mid-century. Already the region’s leading solar market, Atacama Desert provides myriad opportunities for renewable energy firms and is the geographical focus of this reportage. The area occupies a continuous strip for nearly 1,600 km and is commonly known as the driest non-polar place in the world. Moreover, Northern Chile has the highest solar incidence in the world with the potential to generate all of country electricity with about 4 percent of the desert’s surface area. The Atacama soil is often compared to that of Mars and is being used by NASA to test instruments for future space missions. Despite the extreme natural conditions there’s availability of services, due to the region’s mining boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With this green revolution new infrastructures are built daily everywhere in the area, with a fast-changing landscape that mix infinite views of red dry sand to giant electric lines and solar plants as big as hundreds of soccer fields all together. This mentality shift is clear and visible in big touristic costal cities like Iquique and Antofagasta as well as in rural small towns based on farming economy. Public and privates investments are indelibly changing the typical desert’s landscapes with a continuos pop-up of solar panels and plants in almost every rooftop, square or street illumination, changing the classic perception of a desert from a non friendly environment in a land of opportunity.
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