Chile’s Energy Transformation Is Powered by Wind, Sun and Volcanoes

It doesn’t hurt that Chile’s geography offers an embarrassment of riches for renewable energy.

A constellation of solar fields built in the Atacama Desert in the north, one of the driest and sunniest places on Earth, has made Chile one of the most promising markets for producers of solar panels. The sun is so strong there that workers at remote solar fields must wear protective suits and obsessively slather on thick layers of sunscreen.

Scores of wind farms in the northern desert and along the country’s 2,653-mile coastline are now feeding into the national power grid. And while output from solar and wind sources is irregular, geothermal plants offer round-the-clock power, albeit at a higher cost, making the overall grid less vulnerable to disruptions.

At geothermal plants built in volcanic areas, steam dredged from deep inside the earth is turned into electricity. After passing through a cooling station, the steam is pumped back into the earth using injection wells.

“It’s not invasive,” said Guido Cappetti, the general manager of the project, a joint venture between Enel and Chile’s state-owned National Petroleum Company. “The environmental and social impacts are minimal.”

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