Alt Energy In Argentina: Wind-Powered Homes Of Patagonia

Wind-powered homes are expected to generate power and kickstart development in a 'dreamy' but isolated part of the southern province of Santa Cruz.

Wind-powered homes
Wind-powered homes
Liliana Carbello

EL CHALTÉN — Using alternative energies to cut costs and protect the environment has been an objective pursued in various areas, with plans in many residential compounds to install solar panels or reuse rainwater. These ideas may go further in Argentine Patagonia, with a residential project that plans to generate wind energy for the compound and the surrounding area.

This is the KoiKosten project, to be built on 5,000 hectares of land beside Lake Viedma and with views onto the nearby Mount Fitz Roy and the Viedma glacier. It is an area without electricity or gas supplies.

The development will comprise of 300 plots with lake views, each measuring between 3,000 and 4,000 square meters, and set to contain a home of 150-300 square meters with a wind turbine. Developers are giving buyers a choice of designs "on the basis of their priorities, that is energy-generation capacity, functionality and home design."

A home with this technology can produce up to five times the energy it needs

Carlos Manuelides, a Patagonian businessman, set up a partnership with constructors Tango Winds for this project: "60% of our territory, especially Patagonia, has ideal winds to generate wind energy. We have this enormous privilege but we're not using it. The wind is there and it is free, we just have to catch it and make it ours."

In areas with the right winds, like Santa Cruz, "a home with this technology can produce up to five times the energy it needs," Manuelides says. "We are talking about a property that can easily become self-sustainable and will even have excess to supply neighbors' needs, or for other activities that also require energy. With this system, we want the owner to hold the key to the energy business," he says.

The neighborhood will develop in two stages. In the first, the complexes will become holiday or weekend homes, while the second stage foresees construction of permanent homes and an area for developing productive and industrial activities to be powered with energy generated here.

Lake Viedma — Photo: Liam Quinn

The wind turbines, with a circular, aerodynamic design, will be on the roof to make the most of winds, though home interiors will follow standard domestic designs, on one or two floors. The development is intended to be a departure point for the entire zone, which is not reached by the electricity grid or other sources of energy.

Home prices start at US$180,000, but go up depending on design and plot size. The developers may provide some financing. No plots are currently for sale, and readied homes are expected to go on the market in 2021. Manuelides says this is not just a residential compound but "a new area of competition, because we are projecting not just a residential destination in a natural paradise, but also the possibility for people to live and work in a place they've dreamed of, generating their own power and ensuring extra income by selling excess output. All in the framework of an ecosystem that assures them quality of life."

Manuelides stresses all the construction technology and materials are Argentine. He said the project would contribute to "productive and industrial enterprises' locally and use "clean and sustainable energy" to boost local development. The KoiKosten project could in time be replicated in other parts of Santa Cruz, he said, like Lago Argentino, Lago Buenos Aires or Lago Posadas.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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