Solar power appears to be on the up in Central and South America. Latin America has become one of the fastest growing areas in the world for solar energy with dozens of projects in various countries generating large quantities of energy.
Green Tech Media Research projects that Latin America will see 55% growth in its photovoltaic (PV) power output this year, compared to 2015. The climate works in the region’s favour and companies have spotted an opportunity but there are still infrastructural investments needed to ensure solar energy’s long term future throughout the region. Here’s how some countries are making the best of the opportunity.
Solar power in Chile has seen something of a boom and the country is leading the pack in South America. Earlier this summer the country made headlines for reportedly generating more electricity from power than it knew what to do with, so much so that it was giving away energy for free. Spot prices for solar power fell to zero during this time, which meant free energy for consumers but losses for investors. The country has built 29 solar energy farms already with 15 more in the books, so while free energy is certainly a win for the average consumers, the companies behind it still need to generate revenue to ensure solar power’s long term future in Chile.
This surplus energy has another knock-on effect too. The energy grid infrastructure has not been developed across the country at the same pace of production. This means that while one region may generate surplus energy, this energy cannot easily be transferred to an area that’s lacking. This is currently being addressed though with the government constructing a 3,000 kilometre transmission line in the north, due to be completed late next year.
In September the north-eastern state of Ceará approved plans for a 264MW solar plant which will power four cities. The Apodi Photovoltaic Complex will be an 825 hectare plot of 825,300 PV modules of 320W power, making it one of the largest solar power projects in South America.
This proposal follows a similar one underway in the nearby state of Piauí where the Brazilian arm of Italian energy producer Enel, which is the biggest developer active in the region, is constructing the 292-MW Nova Olinda solar power plant. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
BYD, the Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer, announced in August its plans to open a PV manufacturing plant in the state of Sao Paolo. That same month, the Brazilian government passed new measures to allow for the country’s electric utilities to increase their solar energy generation capacity by 200MWa.
Mexico hasn’t quite kept the same pace as its neighbours down south mostly due to regulatory hurdles and lack of stability that stymie investment in solar energy. That may start to change.
The climate and year round sun may just prove enough to welcome investors regardless of the red tape while the government has a plan in place to switch to clean energy by 2024 through a mix of solar and wind.
Chinese firm Jinko Solar and Italy’s Enel have now since invested in the country. In particular, Jinko is constructing a new solar farm in the state of Durango in the south. It’s also tipped to be one of the biggest solar projects in Latin America. It’s become clichéd for each country to claim that their solar projects are going to be the biggest. That remains to be seen but shows that interest in solar hasn’t waned and everyone wants to go big.
Not just solar
Solar may have generated a great deal of energy and a number of headlines for Latin America but it is far from being the only primary source of renewable energy. Central America’s Costa Rica may be much smaller than its neighbours but it has generated an impressive amount of renewable energy. In September it reached its own milestone by going two and a half months running totally on renewable energy uninterrupted. This was the longest stretch yet but Costa Rica has run on renewables for the majority of the last two years, mostly through hydro and geothermal energy.