SunEdison aims to grow its South American presence with a 50-megawatt solar farm in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
The proposed project is expected to cost $120 million to develop and the power could be sold at prevailing electricity prices, according to a proposal from the company.
SunEdison is seeking financing for the project and could get funding from World Bank’s private-sector arm. The World Bank will issue a decision on June 18.
Chile and its economy have been growing rapidly since the mid-1980s. All of that development is expected to require 8 gigawatts of new electricity generation capacity by 2020, according to a report from the International Trade Administration.
The South American country launched an energy plan in 2008 that calls for the increase of non-conventional renewable energy and hydropower. Renewables, like solar, are expected to climb from 3 percent of the country’s total capacity to 10 percent by 2024, while hydropower will increase from 34 percent to 45 percent and fossil fuels will drop from 63 percent to 45 percent.
The country has made reducing fossil fuel use a primary target in its energy policy largely because it doesn’t domestically produce any of those fossil fuels and has sometimes struggled to get them.
“Chile’s lack of domestic energy production and its growing demand for energy has forced consumers to pay higher electricity prices relative to other Latin American markets,” reads the Trade Administration report. “While the situation is difficult for rate payers, it makes Chile one of the few markets where renewable energy can compete without incentives. As the price of solar energy in particular continues to fall, Chile should provide a captive and valuable market for development.”
On top of a viable financial market for solar, Chile’s Atacama region offers some of the highest levels of solar radiation on the planet.
That message was not lost on SunEdison. The company’s campaign to finance 50 megawatts is just its most recent project announced this year.
In January, the company announced that it will build Latin America’s largest solar array – 100 megawatts – in partnership with Chilean mining and steel group CAP. The mining company would buy the power through a power purchase agreement and it would offset 15 percent of the mining operation’s total electricity demand.
Chile’s growing mining industry accounts for much of the country’s increased energy demand, according to the trade report.
Several mining operations are located throughout the Atacama region in northern Chile that could purchase power from SunEdison’s international subsidiary MEMC.