Chile: Mining Sector May Be Solar Thermal’s Future

In September 2012, Chile´s Energy Ministry published a comprehensive study on the country´s solar thermal market. The company who had carried out the “Market study of the solar thermal industry in Chile and methodological proposal for its permanent update” is engineering and consulting agency DandilionEnergía y Medioambiente. According to the 53 pages, the most typical solar system in Chile is a domestic water heating system in the metropolitan area of Santiago, which contains an imported flat plate collector (see the attached document in Spanish). But Dandilion believes that the mining sector will gain importance and soon consume more solar heat than the residential sector.

According to Dandilion, the total area of installed solar thermal systems in Chile more than doubled between 2009 and 2011, from 28,000 m² to 58,000 m². The figure of 28,000 m² in 2009 originates from a study carried out by CDT in 2010. The first figure from Dandilion is a total installed area of 39,000 m² by the end of 2010. As there are plans to regularly update the study, there may be consistent data from 2010 on. All figures include a certain share of unglazed swimming pool collectors.
 
Dandilion emphasise in the study that the Chilean market is not only growing in size, but also diversifying. In 2009, the seven main installers were responsible for 75 % of the market volume, whereas in 2011, the top seven had only 51 % and the top 20 reached 76 %. Only 24 % of the companies have dedicated themselves entirely to solar thermal. Four out of five solar companies are located in the metropolitan region of the capital, Santiago. This is also the region in which most of the installed systems can be found: 81 % are installed in central Chile, with 62 % in the Santiago metropolitan area. Only 9 % of the systems are currently set up in the north of the country.

According to Dandilion, only 17 % of the collectors are manufactured in Chile (average from 2008 to 2011), mostly produced by the two biggest manufacturers, THC Solar and Britec. Collectors from China make up more than 60 % of the market volume, followed by systems from Portugal and Germany. The costs for solar thermal collectors came down by 25 % between 2008 and 2011. Still, the increase in labour costs meant that the price of installed systems only decreased by 13 % during the same period.

In 2011, residential buildings had a share of 75 % in all solar thermal installations, covering both domestic water heating and pool heating. With the tax rebates, the share of solar collectors on new buildings has grown significantly. But Dandilion expects especially the mining sector to contribute a lot to the growth of solar thermal in Chile. Extracting ore from rocks requires heated baths with average temperatures of 45 to 55 °C. Also, mines are usually located in remote areas to which fossil fuels are expensive to transport.The first solar system at the mine El Tesoro was commissioned in late 2012. Spanish company Abengoa set up 16,700 m² of parabolic troughs at the mine. Another project at the Gaby mine with 39,000 m² of flat plate collectorsis under construction right now.

Dandilion expects large mines to have a solar energy potential of 353,000 m², with an average size of 17,670 m² per plant. The consultancy estimates an installation figure of 51,400 m² of solar collectors in the mining sector this year, combining the figures for the planned collector fields at the Gaby mine (assuming 30,000 m², as reality has proven the study’s figure were too small), the ones at another average-sized plant and an additional 5 % for smaller applications in the mining sector. In 2014, Dandilion expects four average plants plus 5 %, which adds up to 74,200 m². In relation to the other projected data, this means that mining will make up 43 % of all installed solar thermal collectors by the end of next year. Of course, this is all based onthe assumption that the plants at El Tesoro and the Gaby mine will perform as planned.

This text was written by Eva Augsten, a German freelance journalist specialised in renewable energies (Augsten(@)solrico.com).
 
More information:
Solar plant at El Tesoro (in Spanish only): www.tesoro.cl/detalle_noticias.aspx?id=3389
Dandilion: www.dandilion.cl
THC Solar: www.ecopanel.cl
Britec: www.britec.cl

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