One of the most innovative infrastructure projects in the world is comprised of a 300 MW pump hydro plant that operates with seawater, located approximately 100 kilometers south of Iquique in Chile. This project is essentially a large solar electricity/storage system which will eliminate, at a low cost, the storage of renewable energy.
The project takes advantage of the unique geographic characteristics of the Atacama Desert in order to build a pumped storage hydroelectric plant that is almost natural: a site distinguished by a high coastal cliff located close to the ocean which contains natural surface concavities*, making it ideal for the storage of seawater.
The above characteristics minimize the environmental impact and the cost of the plant, which together with the solar energy produced from the best solar irradiation conditions in the world, making EdT a clean and abundant electricity generation alternative, that is competitively priced with thermoelectric plants.
The Mirror of Tarapaca
The project is called “The Mirror of Tarapaca.” The energy company Valhalla, a start-up led by young Chilean innovators, announced it had received approval for its environmental impact assessment. Valhalla claims the Mirror will have an installed capacity of 300 MW, and that construction could begin as early as the second half of 2016. The plant would begin operation in 2020 if it goes ahead.
Valhalla, which is currently seeking investors for the project, says its idea is supported by around 50 mainly Chilean investors and the region’s fishermen’s union.
Using the desert’s solar energy, the Mirror will pump seawater via a series of tunnels up to the top of a coastal headland, where it will pool in natural reservoirs. Then, during the night, it will be released down the same tunnel through turbines and back into the Pacific Ocean (see video below). Valhalla claims the solar and hydro operations combined would provide clean energy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and could transform power generation in Chile.
“We are convinced that the Region of Tarapaca can be a leader in solar energy and Chile can become an energy superpower in the world, based on clean, economical and infinitely abundant energy,” said Francisco Torrealba, a Stanford MBA graduate who co-founded Valhalla in 2011.“So it is great news to know that we move to the next stage to realize this project, which will change the face of the energy matrix of our country.”