Hybrid Micro-Hydro/Wind-Diesel Systems to Supply Clean Energy to Patagonia Communities

The local communities-provincial power-Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership project opens socioeconomic opportunities for communities' residents, as well as reducing carbon emissions and insulating them from the high and volatile cost of diesel fuel reliance.

Technological advances and significant reductions in cost have made installing clean, renewable energy systems an increasingly attractive, beneficial and viable option for individuals, communities, businesses and energy providers around the world. That's especially the case in remote, isolated communities where grid access is not available or prohibitively costly, and even more particularly, when such communities are located in often rich yet fragile natural environments.

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Such communities have typically relied on diesel fuel generators for electrical power. That's changing, as communities, along with power utilities and government authorities, look to insulate themselves from the high and volatile cost of diesel and other petroleum fuels, as well as the harmful environmental and health effects of diesel and fossil fuel combustion. Switching to renewable energy systems provides substantial benefits.

First and foremost is the reliable provision of clean, renewable electrical power, power that can open up new opportunities and change lives for the better. The environmental and health benefits are equally substantial: significant reductions or complete elimination of carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as the land and water pollution associated with fossil fuel combustion and consumption.

One instance of this is currently moving forward in Argentina's world-famous Patagonia region, a region rich in ecological and cultural diversity. Contributing to realizing the aims of the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP) last week announced that environmental licenses had been issued for two non-profit demonstration micro-hydro/wind-diesel power projects in the small, remote Patagonia communities of Chorriaca and Cochico.

Sustainable Energy for All

GSEP develops non-profit renewable energy projects worldwide that promote sustainable energy development and/or reduce GHG emissions. In line with Sustainable Energy for All's ambitions, the GSEP projects in Patagonia have three primary objectives: reducing CO2 emissions by reducing diesel fuel use and inefficiencies; promoting local renewable energy resources; and providing sustainable, reliable power 24x7 to community consumers.

Located in Argentine Patagonia's Neuquen province, both the small communities of Cochico and Chorriaca lack access to the national grid. They rely on diesel fuel generators for electricity, which is provided on an intermittent basis.

Aiming to provide clean, renewable electricity to the communities reliably on a continuous basis, project plans call for a micro-hydro facility to be built in Cochico and a wind-diesel plant in Chorriaca. Each will have a 90-kW (kilowatts) capacity, which, though modest by modern urban standards, is sufficient to meet community residents' needs.

Covering the construction and operation phases of the hybrid micro-hydro/wind-diesel power projects, the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) GSEP and provincial government-owned power utility EPEN submitted proved acceptable to local authorities, paving the way for the two demonstration projects to move forward. Once up and running, EPEN will take ownership of the two hybrid renewable energy systems. The GSEP project team has begun final negotiations with the project's builders with an eye toward beginning construction shortly thereafter.

The project stakeholders view the two hybrid community renewable power projects as pilot tests that may be replicated in other communities in Patagonia. Attention is being paid to the use of appropriate technology and maximizing local resources and socio-economic development potential.

"The transfer of technical know-how and experience will also help build human capacity for the development, operation and maintenance of the selected systems in these communities," GSEP elaborates. "Such experience could be repeated in a number of similar towns within the province of Neuquén and others in Argentina that are isolated from the main grid."

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