Sunday, December 9, 2007

Patagonian Energy Alternatives

I've been traveling in Chile and the Falkland Islands, plus a few days in Argentina, for a little more than a month now, as I update Moon Handbooks Patagonia. One thing that has impressed me is how seriously the tourism sector, and in some cases society at large, is taking the conservation of energy. In Puerto Natales, Chile, for instance, new hotels like Indigo Patagonia and Remota are state-of-the-art in their commitments to double-paned windows that permit spectacular views while conserving heat in a region that has frequent inclement weather. The Cascada Ecocamp at Torres del Paine has 24-hour electricity from a combination of solar, wind, and a run-of-stream hydro-turbine except in the tents themselves, where the lamps have rechargeable batteries.

But the champion of them all may be the Falkland Islands' tiny capital of Stanley. Three new wind turbines outside town now produce about 25 percent of Stanley's electricity. Wind speeds in the Falklands average about 14 knots over the year so there's a good chance that, within a few years, additional turbines could make Stanley the first world capital to produce nearly all its electricity from wind power (it'll always be necessary to have a backup system such as the current diesel plant, but one wind-powered West Falkland farm says it now only uses about six percent of the diesel it once needed).

While I've spent little time in Argentina yet on this trip, tomorrow I'll be traveling to Río Gallegos and El Calafate, and will be keeping an eye on this theme as I work my way north toward Buenos Aires (with another detour into the Chilean region of Aisén).

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