Solar technology heralds greener future in Chile | Global Ideas | DW | 03.11.2021

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Global Ideas

Solar technology heralds greener future in Chile

The first solar thermal power plant in South America hopes to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while maintaining jobs for the coal industry's workers. 

Watch video 06:16

Chile: A future without coal

At the heart of the expansive Atacama Desert in northern Chile, a new green technology capable of powering a medium-sized city can be found.

The region has the highest level of solar radiation on the planet, making it the perfect location for the Cerro Dominador project — the first solar thermal power plant in South America. 

Instead of solar panels, the plant uses 10,000 mirrors, which reflect the abundant sunlight toward a 250-meter (820-foot) high tower. The heat generated there is used to create steam to drive a turbine generator, which in turn produces electricity. The energy can be stored for up to 17 hours a day. 

While 40% of its electricity currently still comes from coal, Chile aims to be CO2 neutral by 2050 and plans to decarbonize at least a third of its 23 coal-fired power plants. For many people in the country's northern cities, the existing fossil fuel industry is an important source of income and the move toward green energy presents an uncertain future. 

However, the technology featured in the Cerro Dominador project is set to be used for converting coal-fired power plants into thermal storage facilities. Repurposing them would ensure they still have work, while at the same time improving the quality of the air and water. The first plant using the new technology is scheduled to begin operating in 2025. 

Project name: Decarbonization of the Chilean Energy Sector

Project duration: June 2019 - November 2022

Project funding: €4 million through the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Environment Ministry. The financing will support not only the conversion of coal-fired power plants but also the promotion of renewables and the development of a green economy. 

A film by Claudia Laszczak and Eduardo A. Guaita

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