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Latin America gains partner in green push

By SERGIO HELD in Cajica, Colombia | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-11-10 10:16

Workers install solar panels at a photovoltaic plant in the town of Cafayate, Salta Province, Argentina, Sept 18, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

Expertise, credit from tech major player brighten up renewable energy prospects

A newly opened solar energy park in Argentina-the largest in Latin America-serves as an example of how countries across the region are leveraging Chinese expertise and technology in renewable energy.

Stretching across about 600 hectares in Argentina's Jujuy Province, the Cauchari Solar Park was built by Power Construction Corp of China and Shanghai Electric Power Construction Co, with funding from China Exim Bank. It has 1.2 million solar panels that generate 300 megawatts of electricity that are fed into the country's power grid.

"A state policy on renewable energy has given a big boost to those types of energy and to the development of wind energy and solar energy projects in Argentina," Ramiro Negrete, a renewable-energy consultant and clean-energy project developer, said after the park's official launch on Sept 26.

Argentina has a goal of generating at least 20 percent of its energy from renewables by the middle of this decade. It now sources about 8 percent from them.

"Nowadays, we have almost 3.8 gigawatts of installed capacity of renewable energy, most of it generated from wind power, and we have more than 702 megawatts of solar energy installed and running, which is not little," said Andres Persello, a renewable-energy expert.

Argentina is roughly on par with much of the rest of the region in terms of capacity. Latin America draws 6.5 percent of its energy from wind and solar, while fossil fuels account for about three-fourths of primary energy supply. The rest comprises a mix of hydropower and bioenergy.

Chinese companies have been deeply involved in the region. China Power Construction Group built the Cauchari park, while Sany and Goldwind have been looking for opportunities. Risen Energy, from Shenzhen, is building a plant in Cuba. Trina Solar, headquartered in Changzhou in East China's Jiangsu province, is building a solar plant in Colombia. Envision Energy, from Shanghai, is exploring opportunities in Mexico.

There is plenty of scope to expand the region's mix of renewables, including hydropower in Brazil and solar in places like Chile, which has some of the highest rates of solar radiation that can be converted to power. For Argentina and Colombia, there is potential in wind power.

Affordable panels

In Chile, China Construction Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China funded the Punta Sierra wind farm, which was built by China State Power Investment Corp. It supplies energy to 130,000 homes. China is also investing heavily in Chilean infrastructure. At the same time, Chile has relied on affordable Chinese solar panels to expand its installed solar power capacity.

Expanding solar capacity is not cheap, especially for struggling economies. Argentina has experienced the challenges firsthand and has been able to overcome funding difficulties with China's help. Negrete said the Cauchari park cost about $541 million and China Exim Bank provided a credit line covering around two-thirds of the cost, at 3 percent per year.

The Cauchari plant opened almost a year after another solar park, in Cafayate, began distributing clean energy in Argentina. The Cafayate park has 290,000 solar panels over 180 hectares and produces 100 MW. Cafayate, like the Cauchari plant, is in the northern province of Salta. Both projects were made possible by Chinese solar panel technology.

"China's role here is preponderant in photovoltaics. They really are the ones who set the pace in technology, the price of the panels and providing the panels," Persello said.

China's experience in the photovoltaic sector, as well as its expertise in improving the technology that enables countries to switch to clean energy, is being recognized.

"Nowadays, China is the largest producer of solar panels worldwide, with 70 percent of the market," said Negrete, noting that one of the largest solar parks in the world is in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

"The bilateral relationship between Argentina and China is going through a good moment in terms of cooperation in its sixth year of a comprehensive strategic partnership," said Diego Marcos, founding member of the Civil Association for Argentina-China Cooperation.

"The Belt and Road Initiative, with an eventual Argentine addition, presents a new starting point for the future of investments between the two," he said.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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