First Solar gets Chile—with purchase of Solar Chile

Construction at First Solar siteOver the past year or so First Solar has rededicated itself to expanding in markets where solar can compete more cost effectively with other forms of energy. One of those markets, apparently is Chile. Yesterday the integrated thin-film PV manufacturer and project developer announced that it purchased Solar Chile, solar developer with a 1.5 gigawatt project pipeline throughout Chile.

"We have been very impressed by the quality of the Solar Chile team and the projects they are developing, and we believe that together we will bring even more value to the Chilean market," Jim Hughes, First Solar CEO, said of the purchase. "Combining Solar Chile's market knowledge and promising project portfolio with First Solar's resources, technology and strong execution track record offers Chile a rapid and proven path to add significant solar generation capacity."

“This is an example of executing First Solar’s strategy to focus on new, sustainable markets,” said First Solar Spokesperson Alan Bernheimer. “Chile is an extremely promising market for utility-scale solar development....It has a strong, stable economy that can support solar development,” he said.

However, the nation’s growth is constrained by unmet energy demand, especially in the mining sector, according to Bernheimer. He added that that utility-scale PV is already cost-competitive there.

“Solar Chile is an early and well-connected leader in the market, and their approach meshes with First Solar’s strategy of providing turn-key solutions,” Bernheimer said. First Solar has already worked with Solar Chile and early investor Fundación Chile for more than a year. Solar Chile had already planned to use First Solar’s modules for its projects. 

Under the purchase, the price of which was not disclosed, First Solar will retain Solar Chile’s portfolio of early- and mid-stage PV projects in Chile’s Regions I, II, III, and XV in northern Chile—including in the Atacama Desert, which First Solar said has the highest solar irradiance in the world. However, the projects are still in the permitting process, according to Bernheimer. “The Chile projects do not have PPAs. In fact, only one solar project in all of Chile has obtained a PPA so far. The market is several years behind the U.S., as you can see,” he said.

As the projects get underway they could support commercial endeavors directly or provide power to the country’s grid, according to Alvaro Fischer, President of Fundación Chile. Solar, for instance, could open the regions up to more industry than mining and fishing. Including industries such as water desalinization, hydrogen production, large green data centers and others.

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