Chile Builds First Solar Power Plant For Fruit Production

Through the use of the solar energy, underground water will be pumped to irrigate new table grape crops grown in desert soil. The energy produced by this photovoltaic plant will allow for new cultivation zones to be developed in the country’s Third Region (Atacama Region), one of the driest areas of Chile.

The Atacama Desert has the highest solar radiation levels on the planet, making it an ideal place for the construction of the first photovoltaic plant dedicated to the fruit industry in Chile. “This solar energy plant will allow us to produce table grapes in Copiapó with a high proportion of clean solar energy,” says Subsole president Miguel Allamand. “In winter, when the farm doesn’t use all the energy produced, the energy will be transferred south and used to pack kiwifruit and avocados in one of our packing houses located close to Santiago. This will allow us to produce and pack fruit in an environmentally friendly way, while also ensuring stable energy costs and higher efficiency.”

Solar panel installation is now almost finished on the Agrícola Don Alfonso Ltda property, a table grape farm located 800 kilometers (497 miles) north from Santiago in the Hornitos locality of the Copiapó Valley. The farm is owned by Exportadora Subsole and is a key part of the company’s growth plans in the Third Region. The development of 265 hectares of table grape orchards on this farm will allow Exportadora Subsole to significantly increase table grape production in the Copiapó Valley over the next four years. The solar plant uses one hectare of the farm.

“It is fundamental for Chile to take a strong leadership on the clean energy issue ahead of our competitors in the Southern Hemisphere,” states Allamand. “This photovoltaic project creates a precedent for national and global agriculture and for the development of clean and renewable energy for the productive sector in Chile. It shows that it’s possible to use zero-emission energy to produce quality fruit.”

The construction has received the technical and financial support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Fundación Chile (Chile Foundation). Feasibility studies were conducted before implementing this particular solar technology, as well as studies to improve irrigation methods and water storage. According to Allamand, the project is replicable in other areas of the country, and in any type of agricultural or productive industry in general. It also helps comply with standards in destination markets, which are becoming increasingly demanding in terms of environmental care and sustainable production.

With more than 20 years of experience, Exportadora Subsole (whose partners and producers to-date are exclusively Chilean) has developed an inclusive business model, sharing market and production information intensively with local growers. Exportadora Subsole is now the fifth-largest fruit trader in Chile. It was one of the first companies in the country to implement Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and other quality standards throughout its value chain. It has pioneered the implementation of benefit programs for its workers and has been heavily involved in the issue of labor productivity, through agreements signed with the Universidad Católica de Chile. The company plans to ship approximately seven million cartons of table grapes to different international markets this season.