Photo: Solar Panels in the Atacama Desert
Solar Energy Development companies say that the strength of the sunshine in the Atacama Desert, could translate in electricity for all the mines in the region at far lower prices than those of plants that burn fossil fuels.
The Atacama Desert in northern Chile, the location of last year’s rescue of the “33,” is also one of the driest and sunniest places on Earth; some areas of the desert only see rain once every ten years and temperatures fluctuate from freezing cold at night, to scorching hot in the middle of the day, weather conditions which resemble those of Mars so much, that research concerning future Mars expeditions, is carried out in the area.
The desert gets twice the amount of sun power that Las Vegas receives, so it’s no surprise that the 15 or so large mines as well as the hundreds of smaller ones in the area are starting to look into solar energy to power their operations.
Atacama “has good sun resources and big, unfulfilled demand for power from mining companies,” said Tim Keating, the marketing chief at Skyline Solar.
Skyline Solar is not the only company talking to mines about providing photovoltaic equipment and switching to solar: Xstrata, a giant Swiss based mining company, says it is studying solar installations for its mines in the Atacama. Whereas Atacama Solar has applied for a permit to build a $773 million, 250-megawatt solar farm in the region by 2018, and Element Power of Portland, Oregon., is planning five 30-megawatt projects. Finally there’s Solarpack Corp. Tecnologica, an energy development company from Spain will open this year a 1-megawatt plant at a mine owned by the state-owned copper mining company called Codelco.
Codelco says that if the Solarpack project goes well, it expects to expand its use of solar power at mines in the region.
“We have an energy resource here that’s absolutely unique,” said Silvia Tapia, who oversees renewable energy projects for Codelco. “It’s where our operations are, so it’s obvious we should use it.”