Minera El Tesoro (MET), part of one of the largest mining groups in Chile, has built the first pilot plant in South America using Soitec Solar technology, installing four concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) systems at a site in Chile’s Sierra Gorda district to provide renewable energy for the remote copper-mining operation. According to system vendor Soitec, its CPV systems feature robust technology and don’t require water for cooling, making them well suited for this installation within the driest desert in the world.

The four CX-S420 systems installed for MET use Soitec Solar’s Concentrix CPV technology and two-axis tracking systems to generate a total installed capacity of 64 kWp. In addition to providing electricity for the site’s data center, this installation serves as a research and demonstration platform for MET using innovative and environmentally friendly solar technologies designed to reduce carbon footprint and optimize energy costs in hot, arid locations with high direct normal irradiation (DNI). On May 22, MET and Soitec signed a memorandum of understanding to leverage the experience gained from this pilot plant to facilitate their respective plans of developing additional projects with CPV technology in Chile—which has the world’s highest rate of solar irradiation and is expected to be the site of some of the world’s first large-scale solar projects.

Fabio Mondini, vice president, geographical expansion with Soitec’s Solar Division, said, “This demonstration site is an important step in our commercial efforts in a region where we have high ambition. Chile’s energy demand is growing and should lead to a doubling of the installed capacity in the next few years, particularly in the northern part of the country, which has the highest DNI and strong mining-sector electricity demand.”

“Considering our location within the Atacama desert, one of the highest irradiation regions on earth, we are very pleased to be working with one of the CPV leaders on this pilot installation and to have the opportunity to use Soitec’s CPV technology in real-world conditions, generating clean and sustainable power to our mining operations,” said Martin Brown, environmental superintendent at Minera El Tesoro. “As the demo units feed energy to our mine’s internal grid, we are testing Soitec’s technology in the harshest conditions, and at the same time, assessing the possibility of incorporating renewable and clean energy on a larger scale in the future.”

Soitec claims its CPV system is the most efficient technology in the photovoltaic industry, achieving current module efficiencies of 30%, or approximately twice that of conventional photovoltaic technologies. Soitec’s CPV modules use a durable glass-glass design and Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight 500 times onto small, highly efficient multi junction solar cells. By using dual-axis tracking, Soitec’s systems provide high, constant power output throughout daylight hours. In addition, the company’s systems are resistant to energy losses in high temperatures and achieve passive cooling without water consumption, offering competitive advantages in regions with high DNI such as northern Chile. Soitec has installed its CPV technology in 18 countries to date.

Minera El Tesoro is part of Antofagasta Minerals, a Chilean-based copper mining group that owns and operates four copper mines with 2012 total production of 709,600 metric tons (mt) of copper, 299,900 oz of gold and 12,200 mt of molybdenum.