As our own government rushes to prop up coal – coal! – power, Nick Miroff looks at how far Chile is going to embrace solar:
It wasn’t because of a government subsidy for alternative energy. In Chile and a growing list of nations, the price of solar energy has fallen so much that it is increasingly beating out conventional sources of power. Industry experts and government regulators hail this moment as a turning point in the history of human electricity-making.
“This is the beginning of a trend that will only accelerate,” said Chilean Energy Minister Andrés Rebolledo. “We’re talking about an infinite fuel source.”
The country derives about 6 percent of its energy from solar, but the potential of the Atacama is so great that Chile could generate all of its electricity with about 4 percent of the desert’s surface area, if there were a way to efficiently store and distribute that energy.
“We’ve been thinking for so long that we’re poor in energy resources, but we’re really rich,” said Rodrigo Mancilla, who leads a commission on solar power at Chile’s Ministry of Energy.
There’s talk of the country becoming a “solar Saudi Arabia” which is fascinating to think about. Just as oil transformed that country and others (like Norway), what if the sun is the next catalyst for such change?
Also, this is awesome:
A company looking to bridge this gap in Chile is building Latin America’s first solar thermal plant. You can see its solitary tower rising from the desert for miles around, like some sort of alien religious shrine. At nearly 700 feet, it is the second-tallest building in Chile.
Instead of PV panels, the solar thermal plant will have 10,000 giant, rotating mirrors set in concentric circles around the tower. They will concentrate the sun’s rays on a huge boiler at the top, filled with molten salts, that reaches more than 1,000 degrees and glows like the Eye of Sauron in “The Lord of the Rings.”