A Solar Power Plant in the Chilean Desert

A Solar Power Plant in the Chilean Desert
[Audio Slideshow] El Salvador in Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the sunniest places in the world. It is also where Total and its SunPower solar affiliate recently inaugurated a brand new solar power plant – their first in Chile. With 160,000 photovoltaic modules, it will supply electricity to 70,000 households.
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Hi, I'm Mathieu Hesse. I've been working in Chile since January 2014 for Total Nuevas Energías Chile. I'm working on the PV Salvador project to build a photovoltaic solar power plant in the Atacama Desert.
 
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Atacama is one of the sunniest and driest places on Earth. We're about a thousand kilometers north of Santiago. Another thing about this location is that temperatures are relatively mild for a desert, since we're at an altitude of roughly 1,300 meters. To give you an idea of just how arid it is, the area’s average annual precipitation is estimated at 15 mm.
 
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PV Salvador is a project to build a 68 MW photovoltaic solar power plant. The project is located on a 133-hectare site and it uses high-efficiency panels made by SunPower. To give you an idea of the facility's size, more than 160,000 SunPower PV modules have been installed since June 2014.
 
The main challenge lies in the nature of the area. We're out in the middle of the desert here, far from everything, and that poses logistics challenges for the construction crews. The climate is also challenging, because even though temperatures are mild, solar irradiation levels are very high and therefore have to be taken into account to protect the workers.
 
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We’ve used Greenbotics robots here, which allow us to clean the power plant faster and use less water when washing the PV panels.
 
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I'm Martin Rocher. I'm the head of Total Nuevas Energías in Chile, Total's new energies affiliate created in March 2014. It is a joint venture with SunPower. We have a team of six people in all. One is assigned to the PV Salvador project and the other five work in these offices in Santiago. Together with SunPower, we are testing what we call a "joint development" model, which means that we pool our resources and expertise 50/50 and split project costs and capital outlays 50/50.
 
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The PV Salvador project was developed under a "merchant" model, which means that all the power produced is sold on the spot market. This is a world first. It’s also the biggest "merchant" solar power project in the world. Total and SunPower are demonstrating they can go head to head with market prices, using SunPower technology. So we're in a totally unsubsidized environment and are showing that solar can compete.
 
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The outlook is as sunny as Chile's skies, so it looks like we’re going to be in this country for a long time.

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