Chile's Atacama desert is the driest in the world with ideal conditions for solar power generation. With this resource at its fingertips, as well as a US$32 million technical assistance loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), fruit company Subsole is set to expand production and improve energy efficiency in the coming years.
The move is a national first for the Chilean fruit industry, allowing the company to supply water from underground acquifers at a low cost in sustainable way, in a region where farmers need to compete for electricity with a booming mining industry.
Company president Miguel Allamand said a large amount of the project costs would go towards the transfer of knowledge and technology to farmers.
"The solar plant will allow us to reduce the carbon footprint and at the same time ensure stable energy costs and higher energy efficiency," he said.
"In wintertime, when the farm doesn’t use all the energy produced, this energy will be transferred south and used to pack kiwifruit and avocados in one of the company's 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."
The solar panel installation is now almost finished on the Agrícola Don Alfonso Ltda property in the Hornitos Locality, and will be designed to service 265ha of grape orchards. Allamand says it is important the Chilean fruit industry pioneers these kind of projects.
"We believe it is fundamental that Chile takes a strong leadership on this issue (clean solar energy) ahead of our competitors in the Southern Hemisphere," he says.
"The photovoltaic park 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."
"We believe it is fundamental that Chile takes a strong leadership on this issue (clean solar energy) ahead of our competitors in the Southern Hemisphere."
In an IDB release, the bank said thanks to its financial and technical support the company would have energy audits in six areas under irrigation, three packing plants and cold storage facilities. There will also be a study into solar-powered refrigeration and water storage.
The project will involve the construction of more efficient packing houses and the use of energy storage technology, including the use of frequency converters, hydraulic pumps, as well as energy and water management systems.
Paola Bazan, who heads up the IDB Structured Financing and Corporate Department project, said thousands of people would benefit from the initiative.
"The Subsole investment will improve sustainability practices and will have a large impact across the supply chain; [it will] benefit 275 small to medium growers directly and generate more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. In total it will benefit 82,000 people across the supply chain," she said.
"The investment will guarantee that sustainable corporate practices continue supporting innovation, which is central to IADB's private sector strategy."
The 10-year loan agreement was signed in Subsole's Santiago headquarters on Dec. 12, with a grace period of 30 months for the amortization of capital.
An IADB release said the loan would also contribute to soil transformation, an expansion of refrigerators, processing equipment and facilities. It is expected the company's increased production will allow it to boost exports by 42% in the next three years.