Metro de Santiago, the subway system in Chile’s largest and capital city, is primarily known for three things:
First, it’s enorme. Composed of five lines, 108 underground and aboveground stations and 64 miles of track, the Santiago Metro is the second largest metro system in Latin America after the Mexico City Metro, which itself is the second largest metro system in North America behind the New York City Subway. And it keeps on growing.
Second, a majority of the Santiago Metro’s rolling stock is rubber-tired, making for a smoother, faster and quieter ride than steel-wheeled stock — none of that screechy, jerky New York City Subway unpleasantness.
And third, with an average daily ridership of 2.4 million people, “harrowing” and “packed-in-like-sardines” are phrases often used to describe braving the otherwise pleasant, safe, clean and amenity-filled Santiago Metro during rush hour.
Now, the Santiago Metro also can boast it’s among the most environmentally friendly in the world with news that 60 percent of the sprawling system’s power will, come 2018, be supplied by solar and wind energy.
The remaining 40 percent of power will come from Chilean electricity distributor Chilectra. Currently, the leading sources of electricity in Chile are gas, coal and hydropower, although the rapidly growing solar industry is going gangbusters in South America’s sixth most populous country. In fact, solar power production has grown so large so fast, Chile gives it away for free.
SunPower, the San Jose, California-based company due to commence construction on a 100-megawatt (MW) solar facility dedicated to powering the Santiago Metro later this year, claims in a news release the metro will be the “first public transportation system in the world to mostly run on solar energy.”
Construction on the new subway-powering solar plant — the El Pelícano Solar Project — is expected to wrap up in 2017.
As for the wind energy, that will be sourced from an in-development 185 megawatt San Juan wind farm in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
The $500 million deal involved the signing of two separate 15-year agreements — one with SunPower, an affiliate of French oil behemoth Total, and the other with Latin American Power, the Brazilian renewable energy company that owns the wind farm.
“More than two and a half million passengers use the Metro daily," said Chilean President Michelle Bachelet at a recent press conference announcing the twin agreements. "[They] will not only be able to travel faster and safer; they will also be able to travel in a means of transport that cares for the planet, which reduces our carbon footprint and that makes possible a sustainable future for all.”
Combined, the annual amount of energy generated by the two facilities Santiago Metro will use is roughly equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power more than 104,000 homes. In total, the scheme is expected to curtail 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
In 2007, Transantiago, the city’s public transportation system that includes the Santiago Metro along with nearly 400 bus lines, went through a sweeping overhaul in attempt to both modernize and expand the system and further encourage public transportation given that a significant amount of the city’s notoriously bad air pollution comes from vehicles. The reform of Transantiago was not without major hiccups, including bus shortages and overcrowding on the metro that still lasts today.
Located in a basin surrounded by the Andes Mountains, Santiago, much like Los Angeles, is impacted by thermal inversion, a meteorological phenomenon that essentially traps smog and holds it close to the city like a “giant cooking pot full of pollutants.”
The air quality in Santiago has reached such dangerous levels that officials were forced to ban outdoor cookouts — asados — during the World Cup. As anyone who has traveled to Chile could probably tell you, if there are two things that Chileans are crazy about, it’s barbecued meat and soccer.
Inset image: Sebastián Betancourt/flickr