Bolivian power needs will be met by wind

BOLIVIA: South America's poorest nation, Bolivia, hopes to install 700MW of wind power capacity in the next ten years starting with three wind farms this year.

Domestic power firm Empresa Nacional de Electricidad is planning to install as much as 50MW each in eastern departments La Paz, Oruro and Potosi to meet the growing demand for electricity.

Sergio Valda, South American director for Spanish renewables specialist consultancy 3i Ingenieria Industrial, says there is enough state interest to build 700MW capacity by 2020. He thinks Bolivia is able to generate 100GW of wind power eventually.

The eastern regions, with the capital city La Paz and the mining city of Potosi, will be prioritised, as these have the greatest power shortages. "La Paz, Oruro and Potosi are very interesting because of the fast wind and available energy infrastructure to connect to the network," says Valda. "But in the next ten years, Santa Cruz will probably become a more interesting development alternative."

The western province of Santa Cruz has a flat topography and low altitude with suitable air density for wind power generation. The city's winds blow as fast as nine metres per second, he says, and the area could generate 2,500-3,000 hours of wind energy a year, equivalent to the rates of the best areas of leading global wind power producing countries such as Spain.

At La Paz, the world's highest capital city, the wind blows as fast as 16 metres per second. But with its lower air density, annual capacity would only reach 2,000 hours.

Wind power generation is a government priority, as Bolivia's eastern region relies on hydropower plants that are insufficient during the winter months or in dry periods.

But Valda suggests that wind farms' greatest potential is for export. "Santa Cruz is in central South America, so ideally located to export electricity to southern Brazil and northern Paraguay, where there is no wind power potential," he says. "Brazil has a huge power demand growth, so Bolivia is interested in helping supply this."

While Bolivia's own breadwinning resource is natural gas, its ten-trillion-cubic-metre reserves are not expected to last longer than 60 years. "The government is finally starting to understand that developing its renewables technology is not just for energy security, but that there is also a great social and economic interest in doing so," says one energy industry source.

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