24 April 2017


Enel Green Power

LATAM Solar Status Quo: Top 30 operational PV plants in Latin America

Author: Szabolcs Magyari, Solarplaza

Image credits: Acciona

Latin America is among the few regions in the world where conditions come as close to perfect as possible for the development of renewable energy sources. The region’s abundant natural resources are coupled with an enabling political climate resulting in a booming solar industry. To keep up-to-date on the newly established projects, Solarplaza presents the list of Top 30 Latin American operational plants. This overview comes as a precursor to our LatAm-focused events Unlocking Solar Capital LATAM, set to take place on 15-16th of June in Miami, and Solar Asset Management LATAM, returning to Santiago de Chile on 18 & 19 October 2017.

Quick facts and figures

The Top 30 operational plants in Latin America together account for almost 2.3GW of installed capacity in the region. This value is especially notable when compared to our previous report which only included 1GW worth of operational plants less than a year ago. Although the scope has grown some trends have remained since the last report.

Within the scope of this top 30, Chile continues to be the most popular destination for solar PV developers with more than 5 times the installed capacity of the second most popular destination and more than 4 times as many PV plants (Figure 1). Also within Chile there are areas that can be pinpointed as subjects of greatest focus. The Atacama region is home to 7 of the top Chilean power plants however, closing in on it is the Antofagasta region, with 4 of the listed PV plants. 

Honduras continues to hold its second place for most installed PV projects and the capacity thereof, but the gap between the two countries has grown immensely since our last report. Puerto Rico arrives in third place with 2 plants in the top 30 list and the rest of the countries each only harbour one of the largest PV plants. 

The chronological characteristics of the top PV plants is also worthy to mention. Seven of the top plants have been commissioned in Chile in the last year and a half, increasing the country’s lead. On the other hand, the only two plants in Puerto Rico that made the list were also installed in 2016 which may be a sign of increased interest in the country.

Another interesting observation can be made when looking at the incremental cost of installing a megawatt of capacity (Figure 2). Contrary to the expectation, Chile does not have the lowest price in the region. Its $2 million cost of incremental capacity installation only granted the 4th lowest position. Puerto Rico bears the title for cheapest incremental cost with slightly over $1.52 million/MW and Mexico has the highest incremental cost with $2.56 million.

Private stakeholder assessment

The ownership in the region is rather international and even more so fragmented but there are some key players that stick out. One of the most frequently encountered company in the list was Enel Green Power through the affiliation with 6 plants from the list. The company has very much adopted a regional approach for developing PV plants as all of its top 30 assets are located in Chile so far. This, however, is only temporary as the company is currently constructing the largest PV plant in the Americas with a whopping 754 MW in Mexico and has several projects in developments stages in Brazil as well. 

Recently, there has been a lot of news on SunEdison’s restructuring following its filing for bankruptcy. This topic is especially important in the LATAM region where SunEdison was a major stakeholder. The company or its subsidiaries was affiliated with 6 of the top 30 projects in the region either as developer, owner or both. Although the company is not abandoning the region completely, the vast majority of its planned and current assets are being acquired by Atlas Renewable Energy, a subsidiary of London-based private equity firm, Actis. The acquisition will span over 578 MW of contracted projects and a 1000 MW worth of projects in early development.

The Top 30 of largest plants, as well as the changes in its composition over the course of little more than a year, tell many things about the development of (large scale) solar energy in the Latin American region. Once again, it reestablishes Chile as the pioneer in the region and the most mature market, with the highest number of utility scale solar plants, many of them in the desert region of Atacama. Although the rankings might not have changed much, the total volume of the top 30 plants are another sign on the wall that clearly shows the fast growth of these markets and showcase the potential for further growth. And now, many other countries in the region are warming up - Argentina one of the foremost ones - to these prospects or shaking off a long slumber - like Brazil - and picking up speed. With the big pipeline of projects in various stages of development across the region it’s safe to assume that in another year’s time, the picture might have changed significantly...

The Latin American solar markets are ever growing in size, potential and opportunity. Solarplaza organizes several events in the region, focusing on different topics, segments and markets. On 15 and 16 June 2017 we'll host the conference Unlocking Solar Capital LATAM in Miami, which will focus on solving LATAM's solar energy funding gap - and getting projects realized. Later this year, on 18 and 19 October 2017, we'll organize the second edition of Solar Asset Management LATAM in Santiago de Chile. This event focuses on the optimization of the operational phase of PV plants and portfolios.

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