For nearly 4 months, people in Chile powered their homes for free. Here's what happened.

Chile is amazing at producing and implementing solar energy.

The coastal South American country recently breezed past its competition by becoming the first in Latin America to surpass a full gigawatt of installed solar energy, which can power around 750,000 homes.

The country also has plans to use 70% renewable energy by 2050, with solar at the forefront.


A solar plant in Pozo Almonte, Chile. Photo by Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images.

Which is good. Really good. As a matter of fact, it might be ... too good.

Chile's solar industry has expanded so quickly that for 113 days this year, solar energy in many parts of the country was free.

That's right.

Chile is generating so much solar energy, for 113 days they literally had to give it away for free.

Photo by Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images.

It's a huge win for consumers who, for nearly four months, got to rake in some free clean energy.

However, it's also a potential problem for business owners in Chile who are struggling with the fall of one industry and the blazing-fast rise of another.

If you go way back, the story all starts with copper. Yes, copper.

Chile is a huge exporter of copper, which contributes to the country's 6% annual economic growth. But lately, there's been a worldwide slowdown in the copper trade, and Chilean copper producers have been feeling the impact.

A copper mine in Calama, Chile. Photo by Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images.

Copper mining in Chile has ground to a near-halt, and copper mines everywhere are shutting down. As these mines shut down, the country as a whole requires less power than it did before. But all the solar farms are still producing, resulting in a solar surplus.

Energy companies can't just give away energy forever, though.

If they do, the companies will have to fold, and then Chileans won't have solar energy at all.

“Investors are losing money,” said Rafael Mateo, whose energy firm is investing $343 million in Chilean solar energy projects. "Growth was disordered. You can’t have so many developers in the same place.”

Even when they're not giving it away for free, from a business standpoint, Chile's solar energy is still problematically cheap.

The Atacama region, for example, clocked about $60 per megawatt-hour for most of March, according to Bloomberg. That's $10 less than the minimums set by the companies that won bids to sell their solar energy there.


Photo by Vladimir Rodas/AFP/Getty Images.

So while Chilean energy consumers are probably pretty happy about their tiny and/or nonexistent electric bills, energy companies aren't as thrilled .

Let's look at the bright side here, though. (That's where the sun is, after all.)

Realistically, Chile is demonstrating how successful a clean energy product can be if you truly commit to investing in it.

In fact, we've seen things like this happen before in other countries: Portugal managed to go 107 hours without using fossil fuels by investing serious cash-money into multiple clean energy projects, and Germany managed to bump up clean energy production so much that it had to pay its citizens to use it for seven hours.

Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images.

All over the world, people are investing in renewable energy and finding out just how wildly successful it can be.

We may still need to recalibrate the settings so energy companies can stay alive while consumers get fair energy prices. But we'll get there.

For now, let's keep building.

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Culture

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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