Virtual discovery: Chile's path to carbon neutrality

Photovoltaic system on the roof of the Chilean Ministry of Energy.

Chile wants to become climate neutral: The renewable energies available in the country offer the best conditions. Solar energy is also used on the roof of the Ministry of Energy, where a photovoltaic system is installed. Photo: Energy Programme/ GIZ in Chile

How about a trip to Chile to see the country's progress towards carbon neutrality? This can be done without emitting CO2 and with only a little travel effort using a virtual model. The Atacama Desert in the north of Chile is at your fingertips – with a few mouse clicks, you are standing in the middle of a solar plant. The Atacama Desert has the most intensive solar radiation in the world, and it is cleverly used: More than 10,000 mirrors collect and concentrate the sunlight on a 240-meter-high tower, where it is converted into electrical power. You can also take a virtual tour through a coal-fired power plant that has been converted into a thermal energy storage system. In the years to come, the power plant will supply electricity not by burning coal but by using renewable energies.

A carbon-neutral future based on renewable energies

The model showcases what a carbon-neutral Chile could look like soon and visualises how renewable energies are used intelligently and efficiently to decarbonise the country. You can use the model to find out not only about the solar plant in the Atacama but also about electromobility, combined heat and power generation, or the combination of cheap electricity generated from renewable energies and green hydrogen. The physical landscape model was intended to be an educational exhibit for stand visitors at the COP25 that should have taken place in December 2019 in Santiago de Chile. Now, it is becoming an attraction in virtual space available worldwide.

Chile has immense potential for generating electrical power using solar, wind, biomass, hydropower, or geothermal energy. Even conservative assessments show that the country has a renewable energy potential of more than 1,800 gigawatts. Looking at the currently installed capacity of only about 25 gigawatts, it is clear that there is considerable scope for the development of a new green and carbon-free economy.

Especially in these times of the COVID 19 crisis, initiatives to make the economy more liveable and sustainable are an essential step towards economic recovery. The use of innovative technologies with renewable energy sources and promoting the generation and use of green hydrogen can be decisive for Chile's future.

A physical model goes virtual

The COVID 19 pandemic was also the reason why the physical landscape went virtual: The original version is a two-meter long and 1.50-meter wide cross-section of the landscape of the northern regions of Chile, which was created in a 3D printer. This landscape includes small model installations of different technologies designed to make use of the vast potential provided by renewable energies. The landscape model is currently kept in the Chilean Ministry of Energy, because, due to the pandemic, it cannot be shown at exhibitions and conferences as initially planned. In this situation, a virtue was made of necessity. Together with experts from the Ministry of Energy, the IKI project "Decarbonisation of the Chilean energy sector" has developed a digital version of the model that describes the technologies presented using virtual text modules and short videos.

Funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) the project is being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in cooperation with the Chilean Ministry of Energy. For 3D printing, the Chilean company "Fácil 3D" used PLA, a biodegradable plastic material.