Water, a key element of our future
Chile has a unique opportunity to reach full development in the very near future. To achieve this, we must take decisions that will define the type of future we hand down to future generations.
Until now, we have failed to get to grips with an unavoidable debate that can be put off no longer. How can we ensure that water, the renewable energy resource this country possesses due to its privileged geography, plays its part in setting us on the path to full development?
The scarcity in energy that we are currently experiencing can be temporarily remedied through additional contributions from thermal plants. But the problem will then resurface around 2015–2016 when we are faced with the requirement of injecting more than 500 MW per year into the system. This represents about 25% of the power consumed in Santiago at peak times and is equivalent to the supply of energy to 375,700 homes and 40,300 commercial and industrial customers.
Our duty is to avoid this scarcity. That´s why we should be concerned about certain messages emerging from the current public debate. In recent months, the public has rallied behind a series of demands. I value this increased public participation, which, while being legitimate, has occasionally expressed criticisms of projects that are precisely those that will lay the foundations of sustainable development.
It is here that we must define what we will do to ensure a robust, clean and sustainable mix in generating capacity, meeting the requirement expressed by President Sebastián Piñera of almost doubling our energy supply over the next 12–14 years.
The challenge is possible. I recently attended a meeting at which the former President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, observed that Brazil "requires minimum annual growth of 5%, equivalent to 5,000–6,000 MW every year for the next 20 years," calling for the totality of the country's hydroelectric potential to be used.
Such clarity must be present in the current debate, all the more so when, as a result of decisions not being made, our energy mix has grown increasingly dependent on thermal generation, a source that both plays and will continue to play an important role, but which nonetheless has the drawback of being more expensive and contributing to the generation of greenhouse gasses.
Yet the solution is within our grasp. Just as other countries possess reserves of fossil fuels on which their growth is based, the Andes mountain range provides us with rivers with the power and potential for energy production required to lead us to full development. Water is our oil: a clean, pure and crystal clear oil, the properties of which are conserved intact after use. It is a genuine key element in our future.
This country has a potential hydroelectric generating capacity of over 28,000 MW, only 5,386 MW of which has been exploited, equivalent to 20% of the total. The difference corresponds to an estimate of the power that could be provided by hydroelectric resources not currently exploited and whose development implies an investment of over US$ 60 billion over a period of 20–25 years.
We have the ability and experience to do this well. Our commitment has always been to increase the supply and diversity of energy sources, not reduce them, as this will allow us to benefit from a balanced energy mix, ensuring the country's autonomy and security while caring for the environment.
The time has come to make difficult decisions that can no longer be put off. To fail to do so will be detrimental to this great opportunity to firmly and sustainably move towards full development.
Is it worth making this final, environmentally responsible push to become a first world country by 2025? I believe it is, and my choice would be to hand down a developed country, with a robust, clean and independent energy mix to generations to come.
- CDEC-SIC 2010 Yearbook.
- This figure only takes into account the technical feasibility of the work and does not consider economic feasibility.
- Calculation of the investment is based on an average of 2,850 US$/kW. This figure is derived from assuming the 22,000 MW is created through a mix of 32% of projects with an installed capacity over 500 MW and an investment of 2,5 million US$/MW, and the remaining projects with investment of 3,0 million US$/MW.