Chile, innovation powers ahead with Enel

Published on Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Chile’s Atacama desert is a favourite destination for  space agencies  planning trips to Mars, because no other place in the world has morphological conditions so similar to those of the Red Planet. Totally arid, with near zero humidity rates  and vast areas totally devoid of any form of life: prior to 1971 not a single drop of rain fell on the area in over 400 years. Hence  ideal conditions to simulate other planets as well as for generating great quantities of solar energy. In fact this area ensures more than 2,700 hours per year of exposure and a radiation intensity exceeding that of the Sahara.

Hence, Enel’s decision to develop two solar PV plants in this region is no surprise. Indeed the first 20 MW of the total 97 MW of installed capacity of the Carrera Pinto works were recently grid-connected. The subsequently built  Finis Terrae plant with its 160 MW is rated to become Enel’s largest solar park in the world.

However this is not the only record that the  Enel  Group has broken in Chile. Thanks to the Cerro Pabellón plant close to Ollagüe, Enel will achieve a double record: the plant will be the first geothermal plant in South America and the first one in the world built 4,500 metres above sea level. The technologies that will be used include the cutting-edge HH300 drilling system. This high-automation hydraulic drill, that can bore to a depth of up to 5,000 metres, was designed and developed by Enel and tested in the historic geothermal district of Larderello, Italy.

Ollagüe village, located at a height of 3,660 metres on the border with Bolivia, amidst vast expanses of rock, salt lakes and volcanoes, was known as the “daytime village”. In fact electricity was only supplied up to 2 p.m., after which the whole village was plunged into darkness. In order to change the situation Enel built an off-grid hybrid plant consisting of 1,539 solar PV panels, a small wind facility equipped with storage batteries, a diesel generator for emergencies and two trinum (concentrated solar power co-generation systems) that can simultaneously generate  electricity and thermal energy. A huge innovative achievement benefitting hundreds of local village households, which are now granted  around-the-clock access to electricity.  

In central-southern Chile, near the Maule river, Enel is completing the 150 MW Los Cóndores hydropower plant, the commissioning of which is planned for 2018. Its main pipeline, which has been excavated from the rock for a length of 14 kms, will power the plant from  the Maule Laguna. The facility, including its machine room, has been almost entirely built inside a cave: a solution that will minimise the facility’s environmental impact.

Hence, with a huge amount of energy produced at zero emissions, and many cutting-edge solutions Enel is turning Chile into an open-air laboratory featuring the most innovative technologies. Hence it comes as no surprise that the Chilean International Renewable Energy Congress granted EGP’s Ollagüe and Cerro Pabellón projects the “Innovation” and “Renewable Project of the Year” award for 2015.

But Enel’s innovation in Chile is not only about renewables. One of the various smart city projects achieved by Enel around world has been launched at the Ciudad Empresarial in Santiago, a business and service center in the Chilean capital city. This is a next-generation, sustainable structure, entirely solar powered, where network automation technologies, domotics, LED-based smart lighting and electric mobility are key elements in Chile’s  first smart city prototype.

At the end of December Enel  announced the start of construction work on the 112 MW Sierra Gorda wind farm, this too located in the Antofagasta region. At present the country’s total installed capacity is almost 7,000  MW, half of which originating from hydropower, 418 MW from wind power and 174 MW from solar PV. Over the next two years some 600 MW of wind and solar power will be added  from ongoing projects. Enel is indeed proud to contribute to the energy system conversion plan with which Chile aims to generate at least 20 percent of its energy needs in  the next ten years through renewable sources.