Feature: Can Latin America better exploit its solar potential?

By the Potencia correspondent

Right across the Latin American region there is a high solar power potential. However, the growth in the solar photovoltaic sector, for example, is not keeping pace with the development of other renewable sources, such as wind. Why is that, and what is being done to try and rectify it?

Resolute support from public authorities is the main key to promote solar energy. The Chilean government is aware of that and is making decisions on that subject. With excellent conditions to install solar farms, especially in the northern region of Atacama, it is surprising that Chile's overall photovoltaic installed capacity hardly reaches 7 MW.

The situation is improving since the environmental impact commission of the Antofagasta region deals with the issue. This entity has approved Flor del Desierto project, a 50-MW solar farm to be constructed by Enel Latin America, Deutsche Welle Spanish reported.

Rodrigo Palma, who works as director of University of Chile's Energy Center and the Solar Energy Research Center (SERC-Chile), said that solar power is an "under-used" resource in the country but sees it developing further. At the moment there are 126 MW under construction and over 5000 MW from approved projects, although it is difficult that all those projects be developed.

Stephan Franz, from the German International Cooperation Enterprise energy program (GIZ) sees Chile as an outstanding place to install solar farms. According to Franz, the Atacama Desert "has the world's best irradiation". Besides in the area there are several mining companies that demand electric power.

Actually Flor del Desierto project will be located 80 km from the city of Antofagasta, where there are an important mining industry. Flor del Desierto will receive an investment of about $110 million and its production will supply energy to the homes and businesses of the region.

The price of electricity in Chile is too high so solar energy is a good alternative. Apart from that, the country is opened to other markets thank to free trade agreements with the European Union, the United States and China, what makes easier the activity for the companies with plans to settle there.

In Brazil the bet for photovoltaic energy is also on the table. The Association of Energy Cogeneration Industries (Cogen), the Brazil's Electric and Electronic Industry Association (Abinee) and the Brazil's Independent Energy Producers Association (Apine) are developing a project to be presented to the government next December. The project includes three auctions to contract 500 MW each.

The auctions will be held in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The deadline to deliver energy will start in 2016, with a 25-year coverage deadline. The energy's highest price in the bids will be set between $83 and $87.5/MWh, according to Energias Renovables.

Cogen, Abinee and Apine expect their idea to create the best conditions to expand solar power in the country. Photovoltaic energy is not as competitive as wind power in Brazil but the work of those associations will surely make it possible that in the medium and long term for investments in solar sources be profitable.

Mexico's Energy Program and Climate Change Mitigation will set the grounds to expand solar power in the country. Through this program the federal government will collaborate with Denmark, whose companies will advice in design and planning of sustainability policies, Mexican newspaper Cronica reported.

Federal government Ministry of Energy announced the creation of a market led to make the renewable sources commercialisation easier. The goal is making possible that producers have a better access to customers. The government will allow the interconnection of small projects as solar panels at homes.

Besides, National Autonomous University of Mexico's Renewable Energy Institute has created the Mexican Center for Solar Energy Innovation. El Economista daily said that the government is aware of the country's photovoltaic potential and thinks that it is "essential" betting for renewable sources instead of fossil fuels.

For more Renewables news.

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