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New hydropower project in the world’s most arid desert

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Chile’s new hydropower project will be in the world’s most arid desert, but it actually makes sense

by Megan TreacyMegan Treacy

In the past, energy projects in Chile that have involved hydropower have beenenvironmental nightmares. Damming of pristine rivers and running of transmission lines through environmentally sensitive areas have led to an automatic negative association between the words “Chile” and “hydropower.”

A new clean energy project set to break ground next year has a brand new approach to creating hydropower in Chile that won’t touch any rivers. In fact, it will be located in the world’s most arid desert — the Atacama Desert.

Chile currently imports a majority of its electricity, most of it generated from fossil fuels. The country has needed to find renewable energy solutions that could make it energy independent. Luckily, the country has three wonderful natural resources that can get it there: sun, mountains and the sea.

The Atacama Desert is located where the mountains meet the sea and it gets abundant sunshine, which makes it the ideal location for a new project that would use solar power to pump ocean water up into two reservoirs high in the Andes Mountains. The water would then be released to rush back down the mountain through pipes to a hydroelectric plant where it would generate electricity. Pumped storage hydro plants are not new, but this particular combination of using solar power to pump ocean water up a mountain, and at this scale, definitely is.

Read the full story: Treehugger

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.