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Marine Energy Development - Chile (2011)

Date: December 06, 2012 at 18:23 GMT

The Chilean coast has a vast resource for both wave and tidal stream energy production. The potentially exploitable wave resource is more attractive than the tidal stream resource, however, if harnessed, both could make a significant contribution to increasing the energy security and sustainability of Chile’s future energy system.

At present, technologies that convert wave and tidal stream energy into electricity are at an early stage of development and the cost of the energy they produce is currently significantly higher than that of other conventional sources of electricity. Research has shown that there is high potential for cost reductions, however significant public and private sector support and investment will be required to facilitate the necessary cost reductions. If Chile is to capitalise on the significant opportunities presented by the marine energy sector, government support and investment will be required.
It is, however, important to bear in mind that there have been significant reductions in the cost of marine energy as technology developers move to second and next generation devices and refine and optimise their design and operation. It is envisaged that the cost will continue to decrease significantly as we begin to see the first commercial arrays of marine energy devices, and that the cost of the energy generated will reach a competitive level in the medium term.

A strong reason to support the development of marine energy technologies is the series of positive economic impacts that have been observed in countries where support has been provided, principally in the creation of a supply chain for the industry with extensive job creation.

Historically, Chile has tended to be a technology buyer rather than a technology developer. However, considering the marine energy resource that exists in Chile, this may be an opportunity to reverse this trend and for Chile to take a more active role in the development of marine energy technologies, allowing it to reap the significant benefits associated with such activities.

In Chile there is incipient activity to investigate the opportunities presented by the country’s attractive marine energy resource. In recent years there have been a number of conferences and government agency funded resource assessment studies focused on marine energy in Chile, and Chilean utility companies have begun to show an increasing interest in the sector’s development. However despite this interest, the conditions do not currently exist for the deployment of devices or investment in marine energy technology development in Chile.

For marine energy deployments to be possible in Chile, a number of changes to the regulatory framework are required. The two most important aspects of these are: Chile has a strong and effective regulatory framework regarding the electricity sector. However, from a project development perspective, there are significant issues such as those associated with the financial support mechanisms for renewable energy, the environmental impact assessment of projects, obtaining the necessary marine concessions, and engaging with the coastline planning instruments in Chile. When it comes to the development of marine energy projects, these issues will have an impact on their economic feasibility and will be hampered by the heavy burden in terms of the permits required. Furthermore, the fact that the assessment for such permits would be undertaken by government agencies or ministries with limited knowledge of marine energy projects constitutes a significant obstacle to the development of marine energy in Chile. 

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