Sustainability of rural electrification programs based on off-grid photovoltaic (PV) systems in Chile

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Mainly based on expanding the grid, Chile has reached an impressive electrification rate. However, due to unviable grid expansion to islands and remote areas of the country, the government started implementing off-grid electrification programs. In this paper, we assess the sustainability of rural electrification efforts in Chile paying special attention to off-grid photovoltaic (PV) programs.


Our assessment of the rural electrification efforts in Chile takes into account four dimensions of sustainability (institutional, economic, environmental, and socio-cultural). It is based on an extensive qualitative document analysis, complemented by semi-structured interviews to key stakeholders.


We found that, despite several successful pilot off-grid PV projects, the deployment of off-grid PV solutions for rural electrification lagged behind the enormous solar potential of the country. Part of the problem is that decisions favoring other technologies have been made without considering costs over the lifetime and environmental co-impacts. Moreover, the social acceptance of off-grid PV solutions has been seriously compromised due to problems regarding the accuracy (systems were unable to meet the user’s needs) and reliability (systems often failed due to lack of mandatory standards and the uncertain maintenance).


Although Chile has conducted remarkable efforts on electrification during the last 20 years, the indigenous communities still have less access to electricity. This disparity is a major drawback that underscores the need for adjusting the electrification approach (which means that the communities or the local authorities have to request electrification at first place) adopted by the Ministry of Energy in rural electrification. Indeed, this approach favors better organized communities leaving behind others—normally the poorest indigenous communities. Moreover, major progress on cultural justice, equity, and environmental awareness is needed for ensuring the sustainability of rural electrification efforts in Chile.
Original languageEnglish
Article number32
JournalEnergy, Sustainability and Society
Issue number1
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The projects selected by the GORE (funded by the FNDR) are centrally registered in an Integrated Project Database (BIP by its Spanish acronym), which is administrated by the Ministry of Development. The BIP not only assures traceability of all projects (thus avoiding duplications) but it also allows the GORE to prioritize and select the projects that will receive funds from the FNDR.

Funding Information:
Chile is a democratic presidential republic that accounts for 15 “regions” or territories, 54 provinces, and 346 boroughs (municipalities). The regional governments (GOREs by its Spanish acronym) are constituted by a regional ministerial representative (appointed by the President of the Republic) and a regional council (CORE by its Spanish acronym) whose members are elected by the citizens. The main function of the GORE is to advocate for the territorial development. The GORE initiatives are funded by the National Development Fund (FNDR by its Spanish acronym) [63] that depends on annual national budget. The GORE of each region can distribute its funds according to the needs in different sectors including electrification, education, health, drinking water, and routes [5].

Funding Information:
Coquimbo region. The systems were funded by the FNDR (US$ 5 million). The National Electrical Force Company (CONAFE by its Spanish acronym), a private EDC that operates in the regions of Coquimbo and Val-paraíso (serving almost 500,000 clients), installed the PV systems from 2005 to 2006 and has furthermore been in charge of the O&M of the systems for a period of 10 years (with an option for renewal) [81]. The action line 7 aimed to promote productive uses (e.g., for farming) based on NCRE. This action line was funded (US$ 25 million) by the Chilean government and until 2010 led to several demonstration-scale PV-powered water pump projects for irrigation [81].

Funding Information:
to 2012, the CNE (and later the DAEE) led the program “Removal of barriers for rural electrification with NCRE”. The program was partially funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The program aimed to remove institutional, financial, regulative, technological, and knowledge barriers that inhibited the adoption of NCRE in rural areas of the country. The total project costs amounted to about US$ 32 million, of which the Chilean government contributed around US$ 26 million and the GEF contributed the remaining US$ 6 million [81].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, The Author(s).