Opinion Piece

As Panama Canal expands, a look on the bright side

Bnamericas Published: Thursday, June 30, 2016

A few weeks ago, a sales person at our company came up to me and said: "I know this is not necessarily your job, but do you think content could work on showcasing the good news about what is going on in the region? It seems all we hear now is bad."

I responded by saying that it is the duty of journalists to report on the truth. But later, thinking this through, I saw she had a point. For one, BNamericas is an online information service whose clients include the companies, banks, NGOs, investment funds and government agencies that drive Latin America. They're looking for an accurate assessment of what is occurring in the region but they also want to be comforted that Latin America isn't falling off the edge of a cliff. Moreover, it's obvious to anyone in the news business that a certain level of reductionism is inevitable; in other words (sometimes) we're guilty of forming an image that might not accurately reflect the whole.

So, inspired by the request, here is my little ode to the good in Latin America, and specifically novel projects that are leading the way in innovation.

Since it is where we are based, I´ll start in Chile. In the north of the country, a project is being developed to address the central problem of renewable power known as intermittency. Located in the fishing village of Caleta San Marcos, the Espejo de Tarapacá hybrid pumped storage-solar plant will pump seawater up a coastal cliff to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 585m. At night, the storage water will be released, generating electricity as it rushes down through a cavern powerhouse. During the day, a 600MW photovoltaic plant located 25km northeast of the site will inject power into the country's northern SING grid, while excess electricity will be used to power the water pump, ensuring energy is constantly being generated and maximum efficiency attained.

Also in Chile, state copper company Codelco is developing an underground operation at its Chuquicamata copper mine, which will be the first mine in Latin America to use 100% remote-operated and driverless equipment; farther south, a suspension bridge that will link the town of Chacao on the remote island of Chiloé with the town of Pargua on the mainland is being developed and is set to be the longest suspension bridge in Latin America.

In Brazil, the mines and energy ministry (MME) and state power company Eletrobras are studying the potential of floating solar power panels on hydroelectric reservoirs in Amazonas state. The government says the aim is to generate electricity at idle power systems, and that the project is the first of its type in the world to be carried out at a hydroelectric reservoir. Brazil is also in early stages of developing a cutting edge swing bridge between Bahia state capital Salvador and Itaparica island, located on Todos Los Santos bay, as well as the Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo-Campinas bullet train.

Farrther north, Mexico is developing one of the world's largest and most modern airports in its capital city, and is being lauded for the innovative financing scheme behind the project. The airport will be tendered in 21 main works packages and financed by both the public and private sectors. On a far smaller scale, but no less important, the country also recently inaugurated a solar-powered wastewater treatment plant called Los Alisos, the country's first of its kind, in Sonora state.

Bolivia is launching a virtual LNG supply project that will use cistern trucks to transport LNG from a liquefaction plant to storage and regasification facilities. The system aims to benefit 150,00 families in 25 communities that lack natural gas pipeline access in the departments of La Paz, Beni, Pando Santa Cruz, Oruro and Potosí, as well as commercial users and power plants.

In Peru, President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has pledged to develop line No. 2 of the Lima metro, the southern Peruvian natural gas pipeline, the Chinchero airport, the Lima-Ica highway and Chincha by-pass as part of US$18bn worth of infrastructure projects planned. Meanwhile, Argentina has announced a tender for 1GW of renewable projects in the coming months, and Uruguay continues to be a global leader in wind power development.

Finally, the Panama Canal's expansion – despite all of its numerous difficulties – is finally complete and symbolizes the start of a new era of commerce in the region. Let's hope for success at the Canal, and at all the other innovative projects in Latin America.

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