15 Apr 2019

District heating project in Escuela Agrícola to reduce air pollution for 700 families

  • In 2016, Coyhaique, a city of just over 60,000 people, was named the most polluted city in the Americas by the World Health Organization.
  • The Chilean government jumped into action working with the Initiative and establishing a national decontamination plan to tackle air pollution.
  • Aysen Regional Government (Coyhaique region) allowing up to US$2.8 million for the construciton and implementation of first phases of Escuela Agrícola project, to reduce the impat on health issues related to air pollution for more than 700 families.


In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) named Coyhaique, the capital of Chile’s Aysen region, the most polluted city in the Americas.

The city, with a population of just over 60,000 people, has an annual concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) of 64 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter). That’s three times the WHO recommended 20 ug/m3 maximum.

Chile’s southern cities, Osorno, Valdivia, Temuco, Rancagua and Santiago, were also stated to be over the recommended concentration. The Chilean government jumped into action.

Evidence of the effect of air pollution on human health is stark and mounting. Air pollution, traditionally linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, has in recent years also been linked to diabetes, increased risk of dementia, impaired cognitive development and lower intelligence levels.

About 7 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution. This invisible threat is responsible for 3,500 annual cases of premature death by cardiovascular diseases in Chile and cost the administration $690 million per year in associated medical expenses and reduction of labor productivity (Chile Ministry of Environment, 2018).

“Having an open fire in your kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour,” says Dr Kirk Smith, a professor of global environmental health from the University of California at Berkeley.

Chile reached out in 2016 to the District Energy in Cities Initiative to begin the initiative’s signature process supporting national and city governments in creating a facilitating framework for district energy adoption. After an Initiative-led study tour three Chilean cities, Temuco, Renca and Coyhaique, signed up for rapid assessments. Today, 11 cities in Chile are supported by the Initiative in their clean energy ambitions.

The most recent district heating project in Chile to break ground is in Escuela Agrícola area in Coyhaique, led by the Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment. This is part of a broader plan of the Ministry of Environment to address air pollution, known as the decontamination plan. The Escuela Agrícola project acts as an integral approach to cut PM emissions and thus reduce the impact on health issues related to air pollution for more than 700 families.

"With the help of feasibility studies, like UN Environment´s Rapid Assessment on District Energy in Coyhaique, our office has recently presented the profile to start producing the design scheme of the project during 2019", says Mónica Saldias, regional representative for the Ministry of Environment. This is part of the commitment of the Aysen Regional Government in allowing up to US$2.8 million for the construction and implementation of the first stages of the project.

In this context, the government of President Sebastián Piñera is fully committed to generating a sustainable environment in which district energy projects can take shape and where local participation can meet high standards of development through responsible environmental education.

Previous Next