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Chile’s mining industry turns to sunlight to ease energy shortage

Chile’s mining industry turns to sunlight to ease energy shortage

The Dayton project under construction. Photo from June 2013. Courtesy of SolaireDirect.

Miners operating in the arid north of Chile, the world’s No. 1 copper producer, regularly struggle with power supply issues, but they are about to get a solution as the Coquimbo region readies to kick off operations of the first solar plant for the mining sector in the area.

On Friday, the country’s Energy Minister Jorge Bunster will officially open the solar facility, which is expected to supply power to private gold company Minera Dayton, the main miner operating in the area, reports El Día (in Spanish).

The plant, with is also the first fully integrated photovoltaic plant in the Chilean electricity system, is expected to supply 1.26 MW to an area of 1.9 hectares and was developed by French solar energy supplier SolaireDirect in conjunction with Minera Dayton.

Currently 90% of the electricity generated in northern Chile is consumed by a steadily growing mining sector. The remaining 10% goes to residential use, businesses and the public sector.

In the past two years experts have been warning the South American nation will not be able to keep mining for the red metal, gold and other minerals it holds if it doesn’t find a solution to their pressing energy needs.

It is estimated the country will need to add between 6,000 and 8,000 megawatts to the supply offer in the next eight years if it pretends to keep up current production levels.