Solar Energy In South America

Featured Image: Moquegua Solar Power Plant, Peru.

The sun is the ultimate source of all the energy sources and fuels that we use today. Solar energy is easy to find, does not produce air pollutants or carbon dioxide, is endless, and durable. It is one of the most used renewable sources of electricity generation and had the second-largest contribution to renewables growth in 2020, below wind energy. Due to its fast growth and high investments, the photovoltaic (PV) market is one of the most disputed globally. The following are important highlights of Vargas Gil et al. 2020 article on the photovoltaic energy perspectives in South America.

South America offers great prospects for the PV energy market due to its solar potential. A great part of the region is located within the Sun Belt Region, therefore the energy is distributed evenly. Except for some specific zones of extreme climate, the region has predictable and reliable solar potential. Figure 1 shows the high solar potential in the region by its solar irradiation, especially in the northern areas of Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and the west coast of Peru.

Figure 1. Solar irradiation map of South America

Investments in renewable energies in South America have seen substantial growth in recent years. Chile stands out among the South American countries as it has the highest solar radiation levels around the world, as well the largest number of plants installed in the region (Figure 2). The energy production from centralized photovoltaic systems began in Chile at the end of 2012. The accumulated photovoltaic capacity reached 2,946 MW with 2,720 MW operating photovoltaic plants and 226 MW under testing by April of 2020.

Figure 2. Solar plants installed in South America

Brazil also excels over other Latin American countries as it managed to integrate PV solar energy into energy auctions, increasing the number of PV solar plants connected to the grid. Centralized photovoltaic energy power plants in Brazil were first installed in 2012. The growth in the sector has been continuous, reaching an installed capacity of 2.757 GW in May 2020.

On the other hand, the other countries in the region have little PV energy participation in their energy matrices. However, they are including programs and mechanisms to increase the number of PV energy projects. For instance, Argentina presents good conditions for the development of renewable energy projects such as solar, wind, biomass, among others. The government encourages electricity power contracts from renewable sources opening calls to national and foreign companies. This has resulted in a total of 42 photovoltaic energy projects awarded by the government in the states of Cordoba, San Luis, Mendoza, San Juan, Catamarca, Jujuy, La Rioja, Salta, and Santiago del Estero.

With respect to Bolivia, despite the great potential of the southern Altiplano since it is one of the regions with the best geographical conditions in the world for the use of solar energy, there are few solar projects. Four photovoltaic plants are already in operation connected to the Central Interconnected System. The Uyuni solar plant is the largest plant built in Bolivia, generates 60 MW, and is located in the province of Antonio Quijarro in the department of Potosí. It has an area of 192 ha and represents 50% of the peak demand in the department of Potosí.

Colombia is a relatively rich country in renewable resources. With respect to the solar resource, it has the advantage of having a good level of average irradiation throughout the year, since it does not present the phenomenon of the seasons. Three large solar plants have been installed in this country, in 2017, 2018, and 2020 in Yumbo municipality, the department of Bolivar, and in the municipality of El Espinal. A new photovoltaic plant is currently being developed to be installed in the municipality of Los Santos with 80 MW of generation power.

Ecuador has 32 centralized photovoltaic plants according to Agencia de Regulacion y Control de Electricidad. Most of the plants were put into operation in 2014 and are small in size, totaling an installed capacity of 26.5 MW.

Peru has been one of the first countries in the region to carry out auctions of renewable energies promoting biomass generation plants, solar and wind power plants. In 2018 Peru presented a total installed capacity of 284.5 MW after the installation of the Rubi and Intipampa plants.

Overall, despite the growth of the usage of photovoltaic solar energy in South America in recent years, there are still low levels of participation of this energy source. Countries as Chile and Brazil are more advanced in the development of this industry than the rest. This is due to progress in their policies and the use of areas with high radiation levels for the installation of large solar parks. Greater economic incentives and bureaucratic support are needed for this energy source to increase its share in South America.

Source:

Vargas Gil, G.M., Bittencourt Aguiar Cunha, R., Giuseppe Di Santo, S., Machado Monaro, R., Fragoso Costa, F., Sguarezi Filho, A.J., 2020. Photovoltaic energy in South America: Current state and grid regulation for large-scale and distributed photovoltaic systems. Renew. Energy 162, 1307–1320. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2020.08.022

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