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Solar energy panels are the key components of PV plants.
Solar energy panels, or more precisely the cells they contain, convert sunlight directly into DC electricity which is then converted into AC power and injected into the grid.
Solar cells are made from different materials, each with a different conversion efficiency and production cost.
At present crystalline silicon cells are by far the most common type, followed by thin film, but other types are being tested.
The falling cost of photovoltaic technology has made solar energy more competitive with other sources. Silicon PV cells, the most common type, now sell for US$0.30/watt on average, versus around US$2.50/watt in 2010.
Indeed, in the last few years the global solar market has experienced a boom as installation costs have fallen to historic lows and new growth markets have emerged, most notably in Asia.
The total installed capacity of PV systems expanded nearly eightfold over the last five years, according to the IEA's figures for 2014. That year, the PV industry grew 28% to 177GW of operating capacity, despite slowdowns and challenges in several major markets.
For developers, Latin America's potential solar resources are no secret. The Sonoran Desert in Mexico and the Atacama Desert, which is mostly located in Chile but also extends into Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, boast some of the highest direct normal irradiance (DNI) levels in the world.
In Chile in particular parts of the desert are becoming a virtual sea of solar energy panels as new players enter the market.
Latin America remains a minor market for solar, compared to the US, Europe and Asia. The region only this year surpassed the 1GW mark for installed solar capacity - this, within a market that, for all of its recent growth, supplied just 1% of global electricity output during 2014.
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