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Solar Power: A Bright Future

But a week or so ago, the residents of the little village of Esquiña only had access to two hours of electricity a day by means of a diesel generator. What a difference a week makes. Now it has burst onto the environmental scene as a shining example of solar power potential, becoming Chile's first locality to benefit from free electric energy, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

Esquiña really is tiny, made up of just 23 houses and situated in the municipality of Camarones (in the northern region of Arica and Parinacota). With access to only 120 minutes of electricity a day, it was previously impossible for residents to have a refrigerator or a computer, but all this has changed thanks to photovoltaic solar technology, allowing them to harness the power of the natural world around them. Due to its isolated position, Esquiña is unable to access the main Chilean electrical supply, but solar energy is sure to revolutionise the lives of the local people, whose main livelihood is farming and cheesemaking, giving them the opportunity to benefit from new technologies to boost business and economic growth. The households now all enjoy an electrical supply equivalent to that of a city house. Hopes for the successful development of solar power in the locality were first ignited this summer when test runs allowed residents to catch all the nail-biting action of the World Cup in spite of their remote location.

Esquiña is thus the first Chilean town to become self-sufficient with its own one hundred per cent green energy supply. And though Esquiña might be the first, environmentalists are predicting that it will certainly not be the last to adopt this revolutionary system of energy supply, with tentative suggestions that every region of the country could in theory be supplied by such an initiative, 24/7, and without so much as a peso being spent after the initial installation. This could cause other localities to prick up their ears, given that the rest of Chile has been warned of an imminent 8% rise in their electricity bills.

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Atacama: the answer to Chile's energy needs?

Chile has enormous potential with regards to solar energy, and Atacama, as the driest place on Earth, receives one of the highest global levels of solar radiation. Experts have been keen to emphasise that solar energy is transportable, meaning that energy generated in the north could be used to light up southerly areas too. Germany’s Energiewende policy has succeeded in showing the world the promising future in store for the distance-production of renewable energy, with the construction of North Sea wind turbines and even investigation into installing solar panels in the Moroccan desert.

Another reason to look on the bright side: the Chilean Environmental Assessment Agency has in the last few days given the go-ahead to a 698 MW solar power project in the Copiapó province (Atacama). Called the South Campos Sol project, it requires a $1.6 billion investment and 800 hectares of land, and is hoped to be completed by 2019.

Moreover, construction is in full swing for the Cerro Dominador Solar Power Plant, which is being developed in the María Elena commune of Antofagasta. The Cerro Dominador will have advanced energy storage capacities, enabling it to produce electricity twenty four hours a day. Once finished, it will be Latin America’s largest CSP (Concentrated Solar Power Plant), and will mark an undeniably positive step in the right direction towards the fulfilment of the Chilean government’s target to produce 20% of its energy from clean, renewable sources by 2025.

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The Cerro Dominador

As you can imagine, here at Cascada, we are always thrilled to see the growth and success of renewable energy projects. Solar energy is a great, sustainable energy option at EcoCamp, since during summer Patagonia receives 17 hours of sun a day. We are committed to drawing all our energy from clean, renewable sources. At EcoCamp, water from the river enters the micro-hydro turbine at 5 litres per second with a net pressure of 38 metres, delivering a steady power of 800 Watts. An inverter is then used to transform the 24V DC in the battery bank to 220 AC, the standard voltage in Chile. 1700 Watt photovoltaic panels are also connected to the battery bank and collect the extra energy vital for daily life at Ecocamp.

EcoCamp solar panels
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Harnessing solar power in Torres del Paine National Park

Does the idea of walking on sunshine appeal to you? Come and visit us at our solar-powered EcoCamp for a hiking adventure!