by Josie Le Blond
Chilean mining company Minera El Tesoro (MET) said it has built the first pilot plant in South America with Soitec Solar technology, installing four of its highly efficient concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) systems at a site in Chile's Sierra Gorda district to provide renewable energy for a remote copper-mining operation.
As well as being highly efficient, Soitec said its CPV systems feature very robust glass-glass technology, particularly well suited for hot and arid environments. This design offers the lowest degradation and does not need any water for cooling, which the company said makes it perfectly suited for the installation located in the driest desert in the world.
The four CX-S420 systems installed for MET use Soitec Solar's Concentrix CPV technology and two-axis tracking systems to generate a total installed capacity of 64kWp. In addition to providing electricity for the site's data center, this installation serves as a research and demonstration platform for MET using solar technologies designed to reduce carbon footprints and optimize energy costs in hot, arid locations with high direct normal irradiation (DNI).
To that effect, MET and Soitec said they had signed a memorandum of understanding to leverage the experience gained from this pilot plant to facilitate their respective plans of developing additional projects with CPV technology in Chile.
"This demonstration site is an important step in our commercial efforts in a region where we have high ambition,” said Fabio Mondini, vice president, geographical expansion with Soitec's Solar Division.
“Chile's energy demand is growing and should lead to a doubling of the installed capacity in the next few years, particularly in the northern part of the country, which has the highest DNI and strong mining-sector electricity demand," he added.
"Considering our location within the Atacama desert, one of the highest irradiation regions on earth, we are very pleased to be working with one of the CPV leaders on this pilot installation and to have the opportunity to use Soitec's CPV technology in real-world conditions, generating clean and sustainable power to our mining operations," said Martin Brown, environmental superintendent at Minera El Tesoro.
"As the demo units feed energy to our mine's internal grid, we are testing Soitec's technology in the harshest conditions, and at the same time, assessing the possibility of incorporating renewable and clean energy on a larger scale in the future,” he added.
In 2012, Chile's renewable energy agency Centro de Energias Renovables (CER) published its National Energy Strategy ENE 2012-2030, in which it announced the approval of more than 3.1GW in solar-energy projects to address issues such as possible power shortages, price increases for fossil fuels, Chile's enormous economic growth and increasing demand for electricity.
As a country, Chile has the world's highest solar irradiation and is expected to be the site of some of the world's first large-scale solar projects.
According to Soitec, CPV is the most efficient technology in the photovoltaic industry, achieving current module efficiencies of 30 percent - approximately twice that of conventional photovoltaic technologies. Soitec said its CPV modules use a durable glass-glass design and Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight 500 times onto small, highly efficient multi-junction solar cells.
Dual-axis tracking allows high, constant power output throughout daylight hours. In addition, the company said its systems are resistant to energy losses in high temperatures and achieve passive cooling without water consumption, offering competitive advantages in regions with high DNI such as northern Chile.
Some experts however believe that CPV may be “unprofitable in the foreseeable future”.