New markets emerge as solar takes hold in LatAm

Friday, September 1, 2017

Governments and investors in Latin America are beginning to tap into the region's enormous renewable energy potential, which includes some of the best solar energy resources in the world, and new markets are emerging as the region makes its mark on the solar map.

That is one of the findings of the BNamericas Intelligence Series Report: Solar Power in Latin America: New Markets Take Shape, published this week.

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The renewable energy business is also seen as a potential driver of growth in the current period of economic stagnation. For two consecutive years, renewables have attracted more foreign capital than any other sector in the region, accounting for 18% of the US$167bn of FDI flowing into Latin America during 2016, according to the UN's Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (Eclac).

Chile is the most developed market in the region, although it has faced transmission grid congestion, an issue that now looks set to be solved as grid expansion is completed and more tenders are launched for transmission works.

Also read: Chile launches US$1.5bn transmission tender

Mexico appears to be on the verge of a solar boom, after having held two successful auctions, in March and September of this year, and a third is scheduled for November, followed by a medium-term auction in February. Solar dominated the first two auctions, in which prices for PV-generated electricity dropped as low as US$33/MWh, and several states are now seeing PV facilities being built.

Also read: Mexico could be world's 7th largest solar market by 2021

Brazil also has huge solar potential, with a significant quantity of PV capacity due online in 2018 and beyond, although the country's outlook is clouded by political and economic risks.

Argentina is also making strides, with President Mauricio Macri's government having launched the RenovAr program, aimed at ramping up the country's use of renewable energy. The first two tenders awarded PPAs for 2.4GW of renewables, including around 900MW of PV capacity.

And there are also smaller-scale successes in the region, such as Honduras, which now has 409MW of PV plants - around 17% of its 2,439MW grid - after offering premium tariffs to the first 300MW completed by mid-2015 as an incentive.

Also read DATA REVIEW: Solar gains traction in Honduras

In May this year, El Salvador inaugurated its first utility-scale solar park, the 101MW Providencia Solar project, which is now the largest PV plant in Central America. Panama and Guatemala have also built PV plants, each installing around 90MW of capacity to date.

And looking ahead, a potential game changer for solar is battery storage, according to the report.

Affordable large-scale storage systems would allow PV plants to save excess output that the grid cannot absorb and also help them to overcome intermittency issues. Capital costs for this technology - which in reality encompasses a variety of technologies - are beginning to decline and Latin American companies are just beginning to explore its applications.