Image Credit: Patrick McDonald (CC BY-NC 2.0 license)
The Cerro Dominador solar-thermal mega-project being developed in the Atacama Desert in Chile just took a big step forward after obtaining a favorable environmental rating from Chilean Environmental Service authorities.
The Cerro Dominador project will be the first solar-thermal power plant for direct electricity production in the whole of South America — as well as, importantly, the first non-conventional energy plant to function as a baseload power plant. This ability to function as a baseload plant is down to the molten-salt tower technology being used, which will allow electricity to continue to be produced (for around 18 hours) even in the absence of a solar resource. In other words, stable electricity, 24 hours a day, despite fluctuations in sunlight.
The Abengoa project — which will utilize state-of-the-art molten-salt tower technologies — will possess a capacity of 110 MW once completed. The location (in the region with the highest levels of solar radiation in the world), the scale, and the technologies involved, make the project a bit of a showcase piece. Once completed, the Cerro Dominador should more or less embody the ideals of solar-thermal power plant technology.
The press release provides more:
The project has been regularly visited by the authorities from the Chilean Environmental Service and the regional services in order to perform various types of evaluations as part of the process to grant environmental authorization to the project. The Evaluation and Review Committee unanimously voted to approve the project after verifying the absence of any type of negative impact during the construction and operations phases. The experts took into account issues such as use of the land, water, air, emissions and waste, as well as any other aspect that could generate an environmental impact in the area where the plant will be constructed.
Abengoa will hold a ceremony to mark the start of the project on May 14 at the project’s site in the commune of Maria Elena in the Antofagasta region, northern Chile, to which the most senior regional and national authorities have been invited.
The project is expected to create around 700 direct jobs (2,000-ish workers) during construction, and 50 permanent ones, once the plant has entered commercial operation.
The construction of the new Cerro Dominador project builds upon the recent completion of the first solar-thermal power plant in the whole of South America, a 10 MW solar-thermal plant constructed for Minera El Tesoro. That plant, along with (to a greater degree) this new 110 MW plant, are part of Chile’s broader push to install 2.2 GW of new solar energy capacity within the next 15 years. An ambitious goal, but considering the country’s great solar resources, certainly a very achievable one.
Concentrated solar power is still much more expensive than solar PV. However, the molten-salt storage benefit is a considerable one, especially in markets with high penetrations of renewables. There’s no word on how much the Cerro Dominador costs.