Chile to start phase-out of coal

After France, another country has recently announced plans to start eliminating dirty fossil fuels. President Michelle Bachelet says Chile will not build any coal plants without carbon capture and will start replacing existing plants with cleaner sources.

This could be the beginning of the end of coal in Chile.

Thanks to its geographical and geological context, Chile has excellent potential for renewable energy. With 15% of the world’s volcanoes and almost 10% of the world’s geysers, the country has vast geothermal potential. Northern Chile also has the highest solar incidence in the world and being a large coastal country, Chile is also quite windy. Yet despite all this, the energy production is dominated by fossil fuels. Coal and oil together generate more than half of the country’s energy, with hydro providing just over 30% in 2017. Wind, solar, and geothermal have been relegated to secondary sources, but that might soon change.

The energy ministry has reportedly secured an agreement with its major utilities to not built any coal plants unless they have the technology to store the emissions underground. While this is still less than ideal, it’s definite progress. No clear end date has been announced for the end of coal-burning, but environment minister Marcelo Mena has described this stage as “the beginning of the end of coal”.

“Thanks to significant reduction in costs and the massification of renewable generation technologies that have been incorporated into our [energy] matrix, the electricity generation industry sees an increasingly renewable future, where thermoelectric generation will no longer be the main source of energy and, together with hydroelectricity, other renewable technologies and storage, will complement variable solar photovoltaic and wind generation during the absence of sunlight or wind,” the press release read.

Chile has pledged to generate 70% of power from renewable sources by 2050. Especially since the controversial HidroAysén project was canceled in 2014, hydropower seems to be maxed out, so solar, wind, and geothermal will have to pick up the slack. A consortium formed by the National Petroleum Company and Enel have requested a concession to develop geothermal resources in the northern parts, while wind and solar power have also surged in recent years. Although this trifecta still only provides a small fraction of the country’s electricity, there’s a tremendous potential for things to change. If healthy policy is put in place, the transition to clean energy could happen quickly.

Coal phase-outs have been announced in several countries, especially in Europe. France announced it will stop burning coal by 2021, Italy by 2025, and the Netherlands by 2030. The UK is also shutting down its coal plants fast, and even in the US, coal power has dropped from over 50% in 2000 to 30% in 2016.

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