A new project will supply Chile with solar power, even at night

Even when the sun doesn’t shine.
Even when the sun doesn’t shine.
Image: AP Photo/Patricio Munoz
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A new solar power plant in Chile will to supply electricity to the country’s power grid even when the sun doesn’t shine.

With a bid of $34.40 per megawatt-hour (MWh), Cox Energía of Spain won the rights to supply 140 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the Chilean grid during day and night, through foul weather and fair, using photovoltaics alone, reports GreentechMedia. That’s enough to power about 13,000 homes for a year. To keep the electricity flowing, the company will likely rely on some sort of storage system. Exactly what technology it’ll use has not been announced, but it’s most likely some sort of lithium-ion battery setup.

It’s yet another sign that large-scale energy storage has arrived. A series of large batteries designed to support electricity grids have been deployed this year, with projects making headlines from California to Australia. Tesla and the AES Corporation in the US, Altagas in Canada, and others have jumped in to stake their claims in a market worth an estimated $12.7 billion in 2017, and expected to grow as more and more renewable energy plants are installed around the world.

Cox Energía’s $34.40 per MWh bid comes on the heels of the lowest confirmed prices ever recorded for solar, when, in November, Mexico awarded the rights to build an 80.3-megawatt plant at $19.70 per MWh, to Mitsui and Trina, energy companies based in Japan and China, respectively. In Chile, the local subsidiary of the Italian company Enel recently won a bid to provide 593 megawatts in renewable energy—a mix of wind and solar—at $21.48 per MWh. When both the Ensel and Cox Energía projects come online—which is expected to be in 2024—the Chilean government expects residential electricity prices to fall by 50%. That should help the country hit its target of generating 70% of total energy from renewable sources by 2050.

It’s a global trend: Wind and solar developers are entering record-low bids for energy projects all over the world as they anticipate steep price drops and the arrival of new storage technologies. Project developers are building new plants more efficiently, wind turbines and photovoltaic panels have gotten cheaper with economies of scale, and storage technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries, have seen prices plummet falling by about 50% since 2014.