The epiphany: giant walls of rock rising from the sea, natural surface concavities, rocky ocean floor which rapidly deepens = the international paradise for large scale electricity storage.
Francisco Torrealba climbs the enormous 2,000 meter coastal cliff north of Tocopilla alone and experiences one the strongest sensations in his life while looking out over the infinite mass of clouds, extending from the west toward the horizon, more than 1,000 meters below. The name Valhalla is born, the hall of the gods.
With US$1,000, Juan Andrés Camus and Francisco Torrealba legally register Energía Valhalla SpA during the summer between their first and second year of MBA studies at Stanford. While Juan Andrés uses his remaining savings, Francisco receives US$ 5,000 out of the blue, loaned by his friend Alejandro Ayestarán.
Difficult times. Six months after unsuccessfully trying to raise capital both in Chile and Silicon Valley. “Too ambitious,” “impossible,” “the technology doesn’t exist,” “it will never be competitive,” “if you were right, Endesa would have already done it,” “you chose the worst industry to try to innovate.” Indebted, running against the clock and frustrated, feeling that we had seen the future but no one else was able to understand it.
First visit to Caleta San Marcos, the future site of Espejo de Tarapacá. Resources were so limited that we made the trip hitchhiking. In the cove, we rented a boat and measured the depth of the ocean with the anchor. With complete sincerity, hiding nothing, we explained the crazy idea of creating a natural lake over the coastal cliff.
The first significant equity contribution was committed to Valhalla during a long distance phone call. This First Round Capital Increase allowed for initiation of the geological studies for Espejo de Tarapacá. After almost one year, the company starts to pick up speed.
In early 2011 in a small coffee shop in Palo Alto, Juan Andrés and Francisco meet the well-known Argentine entrepreneur Wences Casares. One year later, by chance, Francisco runs into him in San Francisco. After a two minute conversation about the project, Wences decides to invest in Valhalla. A couple weeks later and with two new shareholders, the Second Round Capital Increase was completed.
Within a two week period, Daniel Noguera and William Faulconer join the team. They resign from established companies in exchange for the adventure and risk of a small company with big dreams and limited resources. Without an office yet, the Apoquindo Starbucks is transformed into the center of operations.
Three months before finishing their studies in the U.S., Francisco and Juan Andrés receive an urgent call from Chile. Carlos Mathiesen, one of the best and most experienced engineers in the country, has just resigned from his job. Francisco flies to Iquique the next day and meets Carlos at the airport. During the same morning, the expert’s opinion changes from technical skepticism to conviction. Valhalla matures from adolescence.
The first Valhalla Ordinary Shareholders Meeting is held in which the board of directors is elected for the next three years; long term collaboration agreements are announced with Fundación Chile, Philippi Abogados, POCH y Skava; the company’s long term strategy is proposed; and the Fourth Round Capital Increase is announced.
The conceptual engineering is completed for Espejo de Tarapacá, following on-site geological, geophysical and topographical studies. A fatal flaw in the project is ruled out and on the contrary, the technical and economic viability of the project is vigorously confirmed.
Valhalla, completes the first satellite study which measures the potential for pump storage hydroelectric plants operating with seawater along the entire coastline of America. Peru is the second best candidate, with 1/10 of the potential of Chile. Chile is almost certainly the best place on the planet and Valhalla is developing the best locations in Chile.
After one year of community engagement with the Caleta San Marcos, a village of non-commercial fishermen located close to the Espejo de Tarapacá project, team member Diego Sierpe relocates to the village in order to serve as a bridge for communication between the community and the company. Valhalla moves in to San Marcos as another neighbor and the foundation for a collaboration agreement is initiated.
The engineering is completed for the construction of Espejo de Tarapacá after 12 months of studies and on-site fieldwork with dozens of multidisciplinary specialists from around the globe and more than 40,000 man-hours. In parallel, the Extraordinary Shareholders Meeting approves the Fifth Round Capital Increase for the company.
The Environmental impact Study (EIA) for Espejo de Tarapacá is submitted to the Environmental Evaluation Authority, after 15 months of work, extensive on-site fieldwork and more than 13,000 man-hours. The study includes pioneering environmental modelling which has led to scientific articles in specialized international journals.
Valhalla is invited by the Mining and Energy Commission of the Chilean Senate to present the Espejo de Tarapacá project. The interest of the congressmen in promoting this technology is evident. With regard to the press, to date Valhalla has appeared in articles in El Mercurio, América Economía, Estrategia, Diario Financiero and Revista Capital, among others.
The Environmental Impact Study (EIA) for the Cielos de Tarapacá solar project is submitted to the Environmental Evaluation Authority. This project will supply up to 600 MW of clean energy in northern Chile, one of the areas with the highest irradiation levels in the world.
The community work which started in 2012 is finalized with the execution of two Collaboration Agreements, first with the Residents’ Association and – a few weeks later – with the San Marcos Fishermen Union. These agreements were the result of countless meetings and working groups and councils with the leaders and residents of the village, who demonstrated significant effort and commitment and trusted the community engagement philosophy proposed by Valhalla – inspired in the conviction that projects and communities can coexist harmoniously and collaboratively.
The Valhalla Engineering team visits the Okinawa island in Japan to learn more about Yanbaru, the first hydroelectric pumped-storage plant in the world which operates with seawater. This plant has 17 years of continuous operating experience, since being commissioned in 1999.
The Valhalla Strategy team attends an energy storage technology mission in California, USA, as members of a delegation organized by the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).
The Avonni Foundation recognizes Valhalla with the Energy Innovation Award. Juan Camus and Francisco Torrealba were also recognized as Young Leaders by the El Mercurio newspaper. Additionally, in the Tarapaca Region, the Industrial Association of Iquique recognized Valhalla with the “Stakeholders’ Collaboration” award.
The Tarapacá Environmental Evaluation Commission unanimously approves the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) for the Espejo de Tarapacá project, a 300 MW pumped-storage hydroelectric power plant that is expected to revolutionize the Chilean electricity market.
Steven Chu, Nobel Prize in Physics (1997) and former Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE ) in the US, cites Valhalla as an example of energy innovation for fighting climate change.
The Cielos de Tarapacá solar project, which will supply up to 600 MW of clean energy in northern Chile, received unanimous approval from the Tarapacá Environmental Evaluation Commission.
A new Collaboration Agreement with the Seaweed Union of San Marcos is signed. The agreement contributes in the development of productive activities for its members.
After being reviewed by the Office of the National Comptroller, a regulation was enacted which specifies how hydroelectric pumped storage plants without hydrological variability will operate in the Chilean electric system.
A collaboration agreement is executed with organizations from Caleta Rio Seco. The agreement includes contributions for development of the fishing wharf and promotion of improvements in the quality of life of its residents, continually monitoring care of the environment.
Francisco Torrealba participates in the Congress of the Future, challenging Chile to aspire to a 100% renewable energy matrix by 2035 through implementation of projects like Espejo de Tarapacá. Máximo Pacheco, ex-Minister of Energy, notes that Espejo de Tarapacá is “a very innovative project with tremendous value which represents a virtuous combination of technology, entrepreneurship and good use of water.”
We continue to write this story and will soon be sharing more.