Torres del Paine National Park

2021: Non-conventional renewables will displace coal for the first time as the main source of generation

Solar panels park, Chile.
Image: Energia en Chile


The National Electricity Coordinator assumes that the plan to install 2,450 MW of solar power, plus additional 1,540 MW of wind power, will be achieved. Thus, the sum of these energy sources, such as hydro, geothermal and others, will exceed the participation of coal.

June, 2021.- Coal as a source of electricity generation in Chile has an expiry date. And renewable energies are already beginning to replace the fossil fuel. 
So much so that, as of this year the contribution of non-conventional renewable sources, namely wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and bio NCRE, is expected to exceed that of coal, which despite the closure of several units due to the decarbonization plan, maintains a percentage of more than 30% of the energy matrix.
This, according to data from the Electricity Coordinator, the body in charge of controlling the power stations and, as its name implies, coordinating the operation of the system. According to the 2021 projection of this entity, the contribution of the units already mentioned, grouped as NCRE, will reach 35.5% of the system, compared to coal, which will supply 31.6%.
This is provided that the commitments to install almost 4,000 MW of new wind and solar units announced for this year are met, of which 2,450 MW are solar and 1,540 MW are wind plants.
By technology, solar generation (mainly photovoltaic, but also thermo-solar, of which a plant has already been inaugurated in Chile, the first of its kind in South America), will make the largest contribution among NCRE, reaching a 17.7% participation in the system, with an expected annual generation of 13,880 GWh. This places it in third place as an individual source of electricity generation, below the aforementioned coal and also conventional hydroelectricity, which, although considered renewable energy, is not recognized in Chile as NCRE.
The contribution of these conventional hydroelectric plants, which include larger reservoirs such as Ralco, Pangue or Angostura, will reach 24.4% of the system's total this year.
It is followed by wind production, which will represent 11% of total electricity generation this year, with 8,670 GWh projected, in fourth place and surpassing natural gas, which will account for 7.2%.
These important changes are mainly explained by the greater competitiveness that renewable sources have achieved in relation to their competitors. In fact, the country's main electricity generators such as Colbun, Enel, AES Andes or Engie have turned to developing new wind and solar initiatives and, with the exception of Alto Maipo, in its last stage of construction, no new conventional initiatives such as gas, coal or large hydroelectric plants are on the horizon.
Non-conventional renewables in Chile.
Image: Chile Desarrollo Sustentable

New Capacity 

This greater NCRE contribution is based on the incorporation of new power plants. According to the April report of the consulting firm Systep, 5,939 MW of new capacity is expected to be in operation in the next 12 months, of which 3,027 MW are solar, 1,779 MW wind, 28 MW geothermal, 563 MW are hydro and 541 MW are thermal. On the other hand, the closure of Ventanas II, of AES Andes (formerly AES Gener) is considered for July 2021, equivalent to 193.5 MW.
In fact, as of March 2021, there were already a total of 142 NCRE projects under construction, with operations beginning until February 2023. Additionally, during that month the Servicio de EvaluaciĆ³n Ambiental (Environmental Assessment Service) began processing 47 new initiatives, equivalent to 2,903 MW in addition to those declared under construction, with an associated investment of 4,395.8 MW. Furthermore, the RCA (Resolution of Environmental Certification) was granted to initiatives totaling another 785 MW, equivalent to 829.7 MW.