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Home / Newsletter / Electricity from the Desert: Hydropower and a tower of mirrors in the Atacama

Electricity from the Desert: Hydropower and a tower of mirrors in the Atacama

Like in many other countries, Chile’s demand for electricity is constantly increasing and is increasingly generated from renewable energy sources. Two very interesting projects in the Atacama desert will contribute to this important objective, one which has already begun, while the other is about to start:

Mirrors catch the sun!
The second tallest building in Chile (after the Costanera Centre) is not found in the capital city of Santiago, as most people would expect – it is located in the middle of the desert! A tower with a height of more than 200 metres rises from the sand in a seemingly endless field of giant mirrors – delivering solar energy day and night. How is that possible? The 10,000 mirrors, measuring 12 m2 each, reflect the sun and concentrate its waves on the top of the tower. There, liquid salts are heated, which are able trap the heat for many hours. What luck that there is so much salt available in the Atacama Desert! In this hot salt bath there are tubes filled with water, which evaporates and drives turbines – even after the sun has long set. It is the largest solar power plant in South America and the biggest one worldwide with only one tower. It generates 100 MW and provides electricity for 410,000 households.

A hydroelectric power plant in the driest desert of the world?
Sounds absurd, however it is a sophisticated plan: water from the Pacific will be pumped up to the mountains of the Atacama Desert into a giant water reservoir, using the richly available solar energy. When the power is needed, the water streams back down driving various turbines to generate electricity. This project will provide 300 MW, which is sufficient energy to serve three provinces of Northern Chile. This hydroelectric power plant will function as a pilot project, which could inspire other countries affected by water scarcity. Production is scheduled to start this year.

If you wish to include a visit to the fascinating Atacama Desert in your programme, do not hesitate to ask your travelArt contact.

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