Chilean Engineers Plumb California’s Path to Renewable Energy Future

The Parque Solar Santa Julia installation, in Chile's Valparaíso region. Credit: Hermann Balde
Expanding renewable energy and making that energy accessible to low-income communities are the main focus of two energy representatives from Chile that the California Energy Commission is hosting.

The two environmental engineers – Carla Douglas and Hermann Balde – are nearing the end of a two-month stint at the Energy Commission as part of a fellowship funded by the Chilean government.

The two are the first international energy representatives that the Energy Commission’s renewables division has hosted.

For the Chileans, their time at the Energy Commission is offering a priceless look at how a renewable energy leader is getting it done.

“We've always compared ourselves to California,” said Douglas, who works for the Chilean Energy ministry office in Santiago, Chile. “We want to learn how community energy works so we can copy the model.”

Chilean environmental engineers Carla Douglas and Hermann Balde
Douglas wants to learn how California is increasing distributed energy in low-income communities and how the state offers energy subsidies.

Chile entered into an agreement with California in 2008 to promote renewable energy development.

California shares similarities with Chile. Both have long Pacific coastlines, mountainous territories, and desert regions. Both rely on large and small hydro power and want to expand wind and solar energy. What sets the two apart is policy.

“Because we have different regulations, it’s difficult to say now if we can replicate any of California’s models in Chile,” said Douglas. “However, it will be very interesting to compare legislation to see how Chile’s legislation can be changed to encourage projects for low-income households.”

Some of Chile’s biggest renewable energy challenges include opposition to new energy projects, lack of territorial planning and grid infrastructure, and the small penetration of renewable energy.

Renewable energy accounted for 14 percent of Chile’s energy in 2016, said Balde, who works for energy ministry office in Valparaiso, Chile.

 Chileans consider renewable energy to be biomass, solar, wind, geothermal, and marine energy (tides, waves, currents and thermal gradient).

In 2016, 27 percent of electricity retail sales in California came from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, biomass, small hydro, and geothermal. The state is on track to meet its goal of deriving 33 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030.

Like California, Chile is setting ambitious goals and passing legislation in an effort to increase renewable energy. Chile recently passed a law requiring that 20 percent of its commercial energy come from renewable energy by 2025. In 2016, the Chilean government also crafted a plan called the 2050 Energy Policy. That policy sets a goal for 70 percent of the country’s renewable energy to come from solar and wind by 2050, said Balde.

Chile also wants to decouple energy consumption from its gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

“That’s the goal - to keep growing using the same or less energy per GDP unit,” Balde said. “It’s important because resources are finite, so you must try to use them efficiently in order to preserve them.”

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