Chile Builds Solar and Hydropower Plant in Desert

Chilean company Valhalla has decided to build a 300-megawatt solar power and hydropower plant in Atacama, one of the world's driest deserts. The hydropower and solar power sections of the plant will work together to generate clean energy. Here is an excerpt from the story:

During the day, the plant will use solar power to move seawater up a tunnel to the top of a mountain, where the water will be stored in a natural reservoir, explained FastCoExist. At night, the water will be released back down, generating power as it falls. This way, the plant can generate power day and night. Pumped storage hydropower plants are not a new concept, bututilizing solar power to pump the water is.

“You need to be able to provide power when it’s needed, so it’s readily available and dispatchable,” Francisco Torrealba, co-founder of Valhalla, told FastCoExist. “If on a particular day you don’t have wind and can’t provide energy at a peak time, that would be a huge crisis. That’s why our concept becomes relevant.”


The water will be pumped up to a natural reservoir at the top of a mountain using solar power during the day. Then at night, the water will be released back down, generating power as it falls. Photo credit: Valhalla

The Chilean coast is an ideal location for this type of project. “Chile has the best conditions in the world for solar plants—roughly 15 percent better than Arizona,” Torrealba said. “It’s really stunning. But Chile also has the best conditions in the world for pump storage running with seawater. That means we can produce flat, steady power at a very reasonable price.”

The company won’t have to construct dams, either. “We found these natural depressions that we believe were very ancient lakes, but obviously there is nothing there now, it is a desert, that will allow us to store water,” the company’s co-founder and chief executive Juan Andres Camus told Reuters.

And it’s currently cost-competitive with coal. “In Chile, we don’t have any subsidies forrenewables, so we need to be able to compete straight with coal generation,” Torrealba explained. “It’s a very Darwinian world—you need to be able to play against coal. Our cost structure is at the price of coal right now.”

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