Chile inaugurates first solar neighborhood

Utah House Solar Panels
Solar Panels, via ricketyus on flickr

The northern city of Combarbalá will be home to the first solar neighborhood in Chile. The housing complex will be home to 114 families in homes specially designed to save energy.

The project is part of a program sponsored by the Ministry of Housing and the National Energy Commission, to place low income families in houses with low energy consumption. The entire project cost US $2.2 million, of which the families paid US $90,000.

The houses are oriented towards the north to receive the maximum amount of sunlight, and have solar panels on their roofs. The families applied for a special loan to be able to purchase a two bedroom house through the Housing Solidarity Fund, with no future debt. They were also taught energy saving techniques, like how to cook with solar ovens.

The climate in the north of Chile is ideal for solar power. When CUP Santiago visits La Serena (north of Combarbalá) every spring semester, we visit a restaurant where all the food is cooked in solar ovens.

For more information on this innovative new project, check out the full text article from the Santiago Times, below.

Chile’s first solar neighborhood to debut next week

114 families will save up to 80 percent on gas bills by relying on solar power.
The borough of Combarbalá, located in northern Chile, is soon to be named Chile’s first “solar neighborhood,” when the new “Portal Cruz del Sur” (Gateway to the Southern Cross) housing complex opens next week.

Combarbalá’s newest neighborhood will place 114 families in special homes designed to save energy.

The housing development is part of a 2009 pilot project from the Ministry of Housing and the National Energy Commission to reduce energy consumption among vulnerable families. The project cost US$2.2 million, of which US$90,000 was paid for by the families.

The households will use solar panels to heat 16 gallons of water at 113 °F, which will allow savings up to 80 percent on the Chile’s notoriously high gas bills.

To take advantage of the system, each house was built with an orientation towards the north to get the most sunlight possible. In addition, families were trained in energy saving and solar cooking and heating.

In order to buy the houses, the families obtained a grant from a government program, the Housing Solidarity Fund, which allowed them to buy a 450 sq. ft. property of with two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and living room, with no future debt.

Housing Minister Rodrigo Pérez considered the initiative as a “big step.”

“With this solar energy, clean and free, we are taking care of the environment and helping to reduce gas emissions. This innovative project will enable the families in Combarbalá to carry out everyday activities such as showering, cooking, washing dishes or clothes without using the traditional water heater. We are taking a big step with the Ministry of Energy to improve the quality of life of the country’s most vulnerable families,” he said.

The housing complex will also have a 10-kilowatt photovoltaic system, which will be located at the neighborhood headquarters.. The mechanism was developed by the German NGO “Engineers Without Borders” and will be connected to the local electric company, which will purchase the energy produced by the system.  Each household will receive a monthly income which will be discounted from their electric bills.

By Mariana Penaforte (