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New energies 27/09/2020

Breakthrough Project Connects Solar To Chile’s Power Grid

A pioneering solar project in Chile is paving the way for governments to integrate more renewable energy into national power grids.  (Photo Credit : First Solar)

Commissioned in 2016, First Solar’s Luz del Norte is one of the largest photovoltaic plants in Chile and has just been granted government approval to supply auxiliary grid services on a commercial basis. The 141-megawatt project is the first of its kind, as grid operators around the world have typically relied on fossil-fired power plants and hydroelectric dams to respond to changes in load by balancing generation. Here are some key facts about the project :

  • The facility, located in the Atacama Desert close to Copiapó, is now used to manage the frequency of Chile’s electrical system. Over the past month, Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional has been sending the Luz del Norte plant second-by-second commands via its automated control system to ramp real power output up and down according to need.

  • Similar to rooftop solar panels, utility-scale PV inverters can inject or absorb reactive power to mitigate frequency and voltage disruptions, much like hydroelectric or natural-gas-fired turbines do today. But solar farms and batteries have a shorter reaction time than spinning generators —  an important aspect for grid operators facing increasingly complex and fast-changing grid conditions.

  •  Wind and solar farms are today being examined for their grid services potential in markets from California to the United Kingdom. While frequency regulation is only a small fraction of a transmission grid’s overall energy needs — since markets can be saturated quickly and are sensitive to changes in market rules — the soaring demand for decarbonized power might override these market conditions, and renewables might soon become a standard part of government portfolios of large-scale generators. 

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