“This new installation will make a significant contribution to the efforts made by the ESO to maximise the sustainable use of its facilities. The fact that the astronomical observatory receives the power it needs to operate directly from sunlight is particularly fitting and it is a pleasure for me to thank all those involved who made it possible to complete this project”
The Enel Green Power Chile photovoltaic installation was inaugurated last September. The La Silla Observatory is located in Cerro La Silla, a mountainous area at 2,400 metres above sea level and 600 kilometres north of Santiago, not far from the town of La Higuerra in the Coquimbo region. The ESO built its first observatory here in 1964. The installation can generate approximately 4.75 GWh of power a year, equal to the energy demand of almost 2,000 households and more than 50 per cent of the annual consumption of the observatory. The solar energy produced at La Silla avoids emitting over 2,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Enel invested approximately USD 3.4 million to build this installation which uses a combination of latest generation technologies with smart bifacial solar panels. The installation is the first industrial-scale solar plant to combine two technologies and to test their performance. The smart panels feature microchips to optimise the output of each panel. This makes it always possible to deliver energy to the grid also in the case of abnormalities. In the case of malfunction, conventional panels can affect the production of the entire installation. Bifacial panels capture solar energy even on the side not directly exposed to sunlight by exploiting reflected light. In order to do so, they are installed in general with an inclination of 45 degrees which in dry and dusty areas contributes to the build-up of sand and soiling on the surface of the panels. The use of these innovative technologies allows increasing the generated power by 5 to 10 per cent compared to a conventional installation of the same size.
“We are very satisfied with the entry into operation of La Silla, an installation that is a hallmark of technological excellence that combines innovation and sustainability and which, in line with Enel’s Open Power strategy aimed at opening up to new customers, applications and partnerships, will be at the service of scientific progress and of the electricity industry by delivering energy to a major astronomical research centre.”
The La Silla Observatory is provided with a number of different optical telescopes with mirror diameters of up to 3.6 metres. In addition to La Silla, the ESO owns the Paranal Observatory which hosts a Very Large Telescope (VLT). At about 20 kilometres from Paranal, on top of Cerro Armazones, the ESO is building the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), a telescope of 39 metres in diameter. The ESO also manages the APEX telescope located at an altitude of 5,000 metres, on the Chajnantor plateau, at about 50 kilometres from San Pedro de Atacama. Finally, the ESO collaborates with ALMA, the world’s largest radio astronomy observatory.
At present, Enel, through its subsidiary EGPC, manages a portfolio of plants in Chile with a total installed capacity of more than 1 GW, of which 452 MW of wind power, 492 MW of solar power and 92 MW of hydroelectric power. Moreover, EGPC currently has 150 MW of projects in the pipeline which, once completed, will bring the company’s total installed capacity in Chile to almost 1,200 MW. These include Cerro Pabellón which will have a gross installed capacity of 48 MW and will be the first geothermal plant in South America.