Chile’s innovative Floating PV Project on AngloAmerican’s tailings pond

by Keith Powell
Los Bronces floating PV plant using Hydrelio® technology, Chile.

Los Bronces floating PV plant using Hydrelio® technology, Chile. — Photo courtesy Lenergie

Chile has its first floating solar farm installed and on a brand-new type of site: a tailings pond, owned by the mining giant AngloAmerican. Located at Los Bronces mines, north of Santiago, the 84 kWp pilot should generate 153 MWh per year for the company’s energy needs. The project, developed by Lenergie and for which island and anchoring system were designed and supplied by Ciel & Terre, was recently inaugurated with Chilean leading figures in the field of energy. This project is unlike any other. As part of a Chilean energy revolution, it stands for a deep change in society in the country and the opening of a promising new market.

AngloAmerican mining corporation is a prominent actor in the global mining industry, with a turnover of over $30 billion in 2018. In the company’s push for sustainability, floating solar proves to be a concrete and valuable solution. This initiative is strongly supported by Chilean national institutions such as the Ministry of Mining, the National Energy and Mining Service (Sernageomin), and the Ministry of Energy. Several elements account for the rising interest of these entities in this technology. The first argument is AngloAmerican’s significant electrical demand: mining is a notoriously energy-intensive industry. Second is the number and size of the group’s tailings ponds. Then, Chile also experiences severe levels of evaporation, which adds a challenge in the company’s mining processes. Floating solar helps manage this phenomenon. Last but not least, AngloAmerican’s available reservoir space is substantial and represents a significant investment opportunity for the international corporation. All these parameters in combination make floating solar an ideal solution, which can be widely spread to many other countries.

Ciel & Terre, the French floating solar group, has partnered with Lenergie, a local solar developer and engineering company, to introduce and expand floating solar in Chile. For the Los Bronces’ plant, Ciel & Terre supplied its Hydrelio® technology and also designed the facility’s anchoring system.

Installing a floating solar array requires a reliable system with solid long-term bankability. These considerations oriented AngloAmerican’s choice of FPV technology towards Ciel & Terre and the Hydrelio® system. As a large investor and major actor in the mining industry, AngloAmerican needs quality partners to guarantee the floating PV plant’s reliability and bankability for the financial investment. These can only be backed up by experience, innovation, tried-and-tested products and a qualified manufacturing process, which are Ciel & Terre’s strengths. As the reference actor on the floatovoltaics market, the company benefits from the largest track-record worldwide.

An innovative first FPV plant in the Chilean mining space, representing a floating solar megatrend

This Chilean project is a perfect mix of technology and innovation to produce energy while protecting the environment. Los Bronces floating PV plant, the first such installation to be built on a tailings pond, generates electricity for self-consumption up to 153 MWh a year, with direct benefits in terms of carbon emissions and evaporation reduction. A technical achievement is the anchoring lines’ adaptability to a water level variation up to 25 m.

This mix is becoming increasingly attractive to a growing number of actors. Floating PV projects are now regularly implemented on a self-consumption basis for commercial, industrial and utility-type users worldwide, and Chile has become a real stakeholder. A report published in March 2018 by Senageomin highlights the presence of around 740 tailings ponds or dams in the country, also potentially exploitable for floating solar. Minister for Mines, Baldo Prokurica, declared “I believe this a great initiative and so, that other companies should have such installations installed. As a minister, I feel much concerned by the tailings dam issue, obviously for safety reasons and for reconversion but also to optimize the use of these water bodies in mining areas.” This will be part of a determined approach to deeply transform the Chilean society (#ChileEnMarcha), with sustainability as a core theme.

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