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Abengoa Starts First South America Solar-Thermal Power Plant

Abengoa SA, the largest developer of solar-thermal power plants, completed a 10-megawatt project at an Antofagasta Plc copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert that will reduce the facility’s use of fossil fuels.

The project is South America’s first solar-thermal project, Seville, Spain-based Abengoa said today in a statement on its website. The company also produces biofuels and develops desalination plants.

The energy produced on-site will reduced by 55 percent the diesel that Antofagasta’s Minera el Tesoro unit uses to extract copper metal from its ore, according to the statement. Mining companies and other ventures that operate in remote areas are showing growing interest in solar power, said Logan Goldie-Scot, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Solar can make sense for isolated mining operations where the costs of supplying diesel make for high operating costs,” he said in an interview today from London. The Abengoa plant “fulfills a particular need for this mine.”

Solar-thermal systems typically use mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler, creating steam that’s harnessed to produce electricity.

Chile’s northern desert region, one of the sunniest places on Earth, will be South America’s fastest-growing solar market for the next few years, Goldie-Scot said. Photovoltaic plants, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, may be more popular because they are generally less expensive, he said.

Companies including Spain’s Acciona SA and the local power utility AES Gener SA filed for permits last year to develop solar projects worth more than $9 billion, according to Chile’s environmental regulator Servicio de Evaluacion Ambiental. Abengoa broke ground six weeks ago on West Africa’s first desalination facility, a venture that would provide drinking water for about 500,000 people in Ghana.

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