Pinpointing the exact time and place of a technological transformation is never simple. In Chile, however, this is not the case, at least when it comes to the introduction of electricity in the country. In Chile, in fact, the history of electricity began on a precise date, September 24, 1885 and in a precise place, Calle Dieciocho 620 in the capital Santiago. The owner of the building, a well-known and charismatic lawyer, Víctor Echaurren Valero, had wanted to celebrate the birthday of his wife Mercedes Herboso and, thanks to the illumination of dozens of light bulbs, the party really did manage to go down in history.
A commemorative website
Now, in the year of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of its activities in the country, Enel Distribución has set up a unique cultural initiative – a website that traces the history of electricity in Chile, beginning right from that event. The project was created with the collaboration of the Pro Cultura Foundation, the Ministry of Education and the National Service of Cultural Heritage, with the help of various cultural institutions which provided archive photographic, audio and video material to create an impressive historical reconstruction. The project can be viewed on the Revoluz100.cl website, which has been online since November 30 with an initial selection of content.
On the trail of historic landmarks
Revoluz100 came to life thanks to a considerable technological effort involving the collection of archive photographs and their transformation into 3D reconstructions of landmarks in the history of the electricity service in Chile. Examples include the first power plant in Santiago, which consisted of four generators housed in a building at Victoria 612: today it is home to Enel’s offices and maintenance workshops.
A journey through space and time
The tour unfolds through various possible routes, featuring the iconic buildings of Santiago and with reconstructions of five different historical periods: from 1857 to 1939, from 1940 to 1959, from 1960 to 1979, from 1980 to 1999 and from 2000 to 2021. Currently, only the content for the first period is accessible. “Our idea,” explained Ramón Castañeda, General Manager of Enel Distribución, “is to create a resource that will conserve for posterity something of immense value for the community, making it available in particular to students who will be able to visualize, in an engaging format, the progress of the city of Santiago over time. For this reason, we hope that the website will become an important source of information and learning that helps increase knowledge about electricity distribution in Chile over the last century of history and in the future.”
A tool for all
In order to tell the story of the beginning of the spread of electricity to Santiago and around Chile, images have been selected from a collection of almost 20 thousand photographs from the Enel Distribución archive, as well as from the collections of universities, the National History Museum, the Aeronautical Museum, the Chilean Chamber of Construction, not to mention those of private collectors.
The result, explains Alberto Larraín, executive director of the ProCultura Foundation, is a tool for “showing how people’s lives changed with the advent of electricity. It is very important that the new generations learn about this story.”
Indeed, the site’s interactive and immersive structure was specifically designed to involve students and teachers in schools.
The future is taking shape in Santiago
Learning from the past also helps us prepare for the future. If the challenge for Enel Distribución Chile during the first 100 years was the expanding infrastructure, the current phase of development concerns the electrification of consumption. The grid is evolving to serve an increasing number of people in the metropolis which are experiencing constant demographic growth, but also to incorporate and manage electricity flows that vary each day due to the growing proportion produced from renewables. Distribution must also facilitate the spread of electric mobility, both public and private. It must also completely electrify homes, offices and industries. An example of this effort is the work of expanding the substations in Altamirano and in Macul. Chile, like other countries, has entered the age of Grid Futurability, the approach that the Enel Group has adopted at global level to create electricity grids that are more resilient, participatory and sustainable.