Monday, June 06, 2016

Chile Achieves Free Energy with Solar

It is the worst nightmare come true for fossil fuel barons like the Koch Brothers. Chile has installed so much solar power capacity in recent years that the spot price for electricity in some parts of the country reached zero on 113 days through April!  At that rate, this year will beat the previous record of 193 days of free power.  And that is the "dirty secret" the oil barons do not want the American public to wake up to.  With enough installed solar capacity Americans could enjoy drastically reduced electricity costs as well as reduce carbon emissions that threaten to drown the world as we know it. American solar capacity increased by 14% last year, but fossil fuel lobbies like the Edison Electric Institute are fighting to keep US solar capacity below 3%.

Chile's economic growth has encouraged the development of 29 solar farms and another 15 are planned to be connected to the country's central grid. Chile's largest solar project so far, 160 Mw, was recently commissioned in the northern grid.  Michelle Bachelet, Chile's president, announced last month contracts to provide Santiago's metro-rail, second largest after Mexico City, with 60% renewable power by 2018. Chile is expected to install almost 1.3 Gw of solar power this year. However, Chile's two grids are not interconnected yet. It is in the less populated northern region where spot prices have reached zero.  In the northern Atacama region more solar development has taken place to service the power-hungry copper mining industry.  It is the country's electricity bottle necks that contribute to the price disequilibrium which would not be as frequent if the entire system were interconnected.  The current government plans to build a 3000 km transmission line to connect the two grids by 2017.

Free energy is good news for power consumers, but bad news for investors in new energy projects.  Even when its not free, electricity is cheap.  At a substation in the Atacama region, electricity sold for $60 /Mw for most of March, below the $70 minimum established by the government.  It is a problem that the Koch Brothers and the other energy plutocrats do not want in the United States.