You, at the center of the energy debate
As a country that leads the way in alternative energy creation, Chile has placed itself at the center of the global energy debate. Which is exactly where we will place you. Starting off in in the small coastal city of Valparaiso, this World Heritage Site is the perfect spot launch into a hands-on energy expedition. Valpo is also where we are first introduced to Chile’s language, culture and history. The culture is fully alive on the winding side streets and bustling markets of this colonial city. What’s more, Valpo’s proximity to the Humboldt ocean current, home to an extraordinary abundance of marine life and a major factor in global weather patterns makes it an ideal setting for our discussions on global climate change and how it affects the demand for and use of energy resources. We visit a local coal factory on the edge of town and learn that even as Chile is promoting growth in clean renewable energy, the majority of the country’s power still comes from cheap and abundant coal. Each approach to resource consumption has its supporters and detractors. Get set to meet all the stakeholders and join the debate as a global citizen. You are no ordinary tourist.
The politics of renewable energy
In Santiago, we visit the capital’s new Renewable Energy Center. Experts from Chile’s National Energy Commission give us an overview of Chile’s energy dilemmas as well as an introduction to renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar, hydro, bio-fuel and geothermal energy. Then, it’s on to Cajon del Maipo, where we spend our days exploring breathtaking valleys carved by glaciers. In the evenings, sit around the fire discussing contemporary topics in Chilean politics and the energy economy. Not only is your point of view relevant, your confidence in communicating it is growing by the day. Venture into the highlands and ancient glacial valleys to gain an understanding of the way thousands of centuries of change impact the landscape. Early risers are treated to a spectacular sunrise over snowcapped mountains! Visit the controversial hydroelectric project in the Maipo Valley where engineers are diverting the river’s tributaries through forty miles of underground pipes to power two large electric turbines. Speak with environmental advocates who worry that while the power station is expected to produce over 500 megawatts of clean power, it may cause irreparable harm to the watershed and the valley, which is the primary source of drinking water for Santiago and the surrounding region. On the outskirts of Maipo, we visit the Farfana water treatment plant, the first and largest biogas installation in South America. The biogas plant uses the by-products of water treatment to replace 14 million cubic meters of natural gas each year.
Travel to the Earth's magnetic center
Heading north, stop in the Elqui Valley, said to be earth’s magnetic center, where breathtaking scenery slopes from the mountains into the ocean. The Elqui Valley is the perfect setting for our overnight horseback trek, leaving us feeling like true Chileans. Visit small scale solar centers, and learn about endeavors to harness the energy of sun. In rural areas, small scale solar projects can be used to run agricultural irrigation systems and provide power to families that live outside the reach of the electricity grid. Spend an evening peering through telescopes at the clearest atmosphere in the world. The clouds in the Elqui Valley only reach halfway up the mountain, stopping dust and light pollution from reaching the telescopes. On a moonless night, the starry skies are beyond compare. Take time to explore ocean side towns and visit the Parcque Eolica Canela wind farms along the coast. In addition to providing clean carbon free electricity, these windmill installations also provide important economic benefits to the community by providing construction, maintenance and other jobs to locals. After a few days in Elqui, we realize how it’s impossible to hash out energy policy in a bubble. To formulate an opinion and argue for it. You have to travel to where it’s happening, which is exactly what we do.
The journey continues
The Atacama Desert and the oasis town of San Pedro are our most northern destinations. The Atacama is the driest desert in the world, only occasionally taking on water from Pacific Ocean storms that leave huge salt deposits. Despite its dry surface, the Atacama features underground geothermal hot spots and soaring geysers, making it literally a hot spot for energy research. Geothermal facilities use underground hot springs to generate energy using traditional turbines. Geothermal, which produces less than one percent of global energy, is considered clean and renewable, but it too has detractors. Visit lagoons covered by flamingos taking refuge, take a dip in geothermal waters and relax while watching a stunning sunset at Valle de la Luna. Settle into the pace of the Atacama Desert and live like a local, working in remote Aymara communities on service endeavors. Our projects include organic agriculture work and educating local schoolchildren on environmental issues related to energy and local resources. Simply understanding energy issues is not enough. In order to achieve progress, the world will need leaders like you to actively take part in a solution. Spread the word. Get into the political sphere. Work at a wind farm. Whatever you do, stay off the sidelines. Our final challenge before heading home is a breathtaking climb of an ancient volcano. Looking out over the desert fills us with awe and helps us reflect on the enlightening experience behind us.