A 141 MW solar power plant might not sound like a lot to some of us American or European readers, but the recently approved solar plant for the Chilean Atacama Desert will the largest built to date in Latin America.
First Solar received board approval from a number of key organizations for the financing that will make construction possible for the new solar plant. Loans totaling $290 million were approved by the the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the IFC, a member of the World Bank Group. OPIC has approved nearly $900 million in loan guarantees for six renewable energy projects in Chile.
“The Luz del Norte project is an important step in furthering solar power development in Chile, where the potential for this clean, renewable resource is unrivalled. OPIC is proud to support this investment in Chile while helping an innovative American company like First Solar expand its operations and create new markets for its products abroad,” said Elizabeth Littlefield, OPIC’s President.
The Atacama Desert has some of the best solar power conditions in the world, so constructing a large solar facility there is only sensible. This succinct explanation summarizes the situation well:
Chile’s capacity for solar energy is immense, as the Atacama Desert in the north of the country has optimal conditions for generating solar energy, with high radiation, low humidity, and almost zero cloud cover year round. The Atacama receives more solar irradiance per square meter than anywhere else in the world, including the African Sahara, the Arabian Desert, and Australia’s Great Sandy Desert.first
Another plus is that Chilean homes may use less electricity than ones in rich countries, so a large solar plant can provide power to more people there. For example, it was reported this year that a 100 MW solar plant already operating in the Atacama Desert could generate enough power for 125,000 homes.
The 100 MW plant has PV panels covering about 250 acres, but the desert is about 600 miles long and has plenty of open space for more. A number of solar power plants could be built there with plenty of room to spare. Over one million people live in this desert, but it is one of the driest places on Earth.
First Solar is based in Tempe, Arizona and has been in business since 1999.
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