The Chilean government has awarded Spain’s Abengoa a contract to build a 110 MW solar power plant based on tower technology with thermal storage. The project will be built in the Atacama desert and will be the largest solar thermal power plant in South America. Its use of molten salt thermal storage technology will enable it to produce energy for up to 17.5 hours when the sun is not shining.

The project forms a key part of Chile’s national renewable energy programme and will receive direct subsidies from the Chilean government and the European Union, as well as financing from the Inter-American Development Bank, Germany’s KFW, the Clean Technology Fund and Canadian Fund. Abengoa says that the project will consolidate the firm’s presence in the solar thermal market as well as in Chile. Construction of the plant is due to begin in the second half of 2014.

Solar tower technology uses a series of mirrors to concentrate solar radiation onto a receiver located in a central tower. The heat is transferred to molten salts, which heat water in a heat exchanger. The superheated water is used in a steam turbine to generate electricity.

Chile has set a target of generating 20 per cent of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2025. Abengoa says that solar thermal technology has "huge potential" in Chile because regions such as the Atacama desert have very high solar radiation concentrations.