How a Little Hotel in One of the Driest Places on Earth is Paving the Way for a Sustainable Future

In the Chilean desert, in the northern town of San Pedro sits a small, almost boutique hotel and spa called the Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa. A small oasis built with in the walls of an old cattle corral, this modern glass and adobe structure features lush gardens with medicinal plants and vegetables that are used in the resort’s kitchen. But the most striking feature of all is the fleet of solar panels– 588 to be exact– which surround the exterior walls. This solar set up has gained the resort international attention.

Switching to Renewable Energy

The hotel announced just last month that it would be trading its massive diesel generators with solar panels. They are able to do this due to advances in lithium ion batteries which allow the hotel to generate enough energy during the day to power the resort around the clock. It seems fitting that the hotel be powered with solar as a large percentage of the world’s lithium is taken from the Atacama Desert.

The Pros and Cons of Solar for Chile

There is some contention about the drive for solar power in the area. On the one hand are the people who live there who would like to give up their diesel generators in favor of something cleaner. They live so remotely that the power grid does not extend to them and they rely on generators for power. On the other hand, many people are concerned about what the lithium mining will do to the environment. While the lithium mines do provide jobs, many residents have been displaced as a result of the mines.

Possible Wider Applications

Local residents are not the only ones who would benefit from a switch to solar energy. There is a hope that the solar efforts at Tierra Atacama will act as a model not just for other businesses but for Chile– a country desperate for energy independence. It is believed that the Atacama Desert could not just power Chile, but all of South America. As the market for renewable energy grows, Chile hopes to meet certain goals. The hope is to have 20 percent of their energy come from renewable sources by 2025 and 70 percent by 2050.

The Tierra Atacama Hotel stands as an example. It presents the possibility of a sustainable future not just for businesses, but for Chile and possibly South America too.

And, if Chile can develop energy independence, what is to stop the rest of the world from following their lead?