Mines located in northern Chile are turning to solar power — instead of fossil fuel power plants — for more affordable, cleaner energy. The Atacama Desert in northern Chile, where many mines are located, is one of the driest and sunniest places on the planet — the sun is twice as strong there as it is in Las Vegas. Though mining is an environmentally destructive process, people — and many green technologies — thrive on the minerals produced by it. There are hundreds of mines in the Atacama Desert and converting them all to clean energy would be a step in the right direction for the whole industry.

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Photo by Carlos yo

The Atacama Desert gets rain only once every decade or so — weather conditions there are closer than they are to Mars than to most other places on earth — and the force of the sun makes solar energy generation extremely efficient. The desert, “has good sun resources and big, unfulfilled demand for power from mining companies,” said Tim Keating, the marketing chief at Skyline Solar, a company talking to the mines about converting to clean energy.

The proposed projects in the region range from very small to very large. A permit was submitted by Atacama Solar for a $773 million, 250-megawatt solar plant to be completed by 2018. Smaller projects are mine specific, like a 1-megawatt solar plant built on the site of a Codelco — a Chilean mining company with many projects in the Atacama — which is being built by Solarpack Corp. Tecnologica. “We have an energy resource here that’s absolutely unique,” said Silvia Tapia, who oversees renewable energy projects for Codelco. “It’s where our operations are, so it’s obvious we should use it.”