The innovations that are changing power generation in Chile

Published on Thursday, 6 May 2021

“This type of energy production has several advantages: it is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it is silent and is not located in populated areas. This country has excellent marine resources to produce wave energy and the installation of this device is a great sign of progress”

– James Lee Stancampiano, president of the MERIC board of directors

Cerro Pabellón Geothermal Power Plant

Energy Storage Systems

Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) are an emerging technology that adds a lot of value to electrical systems and as a solution for the efficient integration of energy variable renewables, such as wind and solar. BESS has multiple attributes. These systems allow the reduction of energy losses caused by congestion in the transmission network, provide resilience and stability to the electrical network, and take advantage of available energy resources more efficiently to reduce operating costs.

Advances in this area are becoming increasingly important as storage can play a vital role in the decarbonization of energy grids by safely allowing the shutting down of coal-fired power plants and the entrance of renewable generation into the system without jeopardizing the stability and continued energy supply.

“Currently, storage systems are already being considered as part of new renewable projects to be installed in circumstances where their presence adds value, market conditions permitting. In fact, Enel Green Power plans 30% of its renewable power generation to be a hybrid with storage systems. This will allow us to incorporate 20 GWh of energy storage capacity worldwide by 2030,” says Christian Soto, senior business developer for Enel Green Power Chile.

But the development of energy storage technologies is not a recent phenomenon. They have a long history and, depending on the type of application, some of them have achieved more efficient results than others. Enel Green Power has opted to use lithium-ion batteries, due to the maturity and competitiveness that this type of technology has reached. Faster charging speeds, flexibility, and modularization, as well as an exponential decrease in prices, thanks to the increase in demand from the electromobility industry, have made this type of battery become the best option.

However, continued research and search for increasingly efficient and higher quality technologies do not stop. Feasibility studies and field tests are being carried out. Experts continue to test liquid air storage systems, flow batteries, and thermal storage as ways to respond to future challenges.

Enel Green Power storage plant in Cremzow, Germany

Hybrid renewable power plants

Normally, wind farms designs must take into consideration a distance of 1 to 2 kilometers between one row of wind turbines and another for energy efficiency reasons. Once the wind passes through a turbine, it loses its energy and needs to travel a certain distance to recover it. This means that these facilities have a lot of available space that can be used to generate energy with other sources.

Currently, Enel Green Power Chile is building the “Azabache” project in the Antofagasta region, which will be the first hybrid industrial plant in the country. The initiative consists of implementing a solar plant inside the Valle de los Vientos wind farm. In addition, there are other similar projects in the pipeline, for example, building a solar plant inside the Sierra Gorda Este wind farm.

"The north of Chile has very special conditions that favor this type of project, since not only do they have excellent wind conditions, but they are also located in places with very good solar radiation levels, which allow power generation both day and night. But the synergies to be achieved from plant hybridization goes beyond the use of space and natural resources. The construction of access roads and erecting of transmission lines and substations can also be avoided or reduced, which frees up resources to generate a greater amount of energy,” Cristian Reyes, senior business developer at Enel Green Power Chile.

There is also the possibility of building hybrid parks from scratch, which makes it possible to take advantage of synergies not only during the construction and operational phases but also at the development phase. Environmental, social and land studies, as well as basic engineering and interconnection studies, can be done in one go for both plants, distributing these fixed costs for greater installed capacity.

Green hydrogen: clean fuel

Green hydrogen is considered the fuel of the future, given its potential to replace fossil fuels such as oil in the transportation and heavy industry sectors. One of the most environmentally friendly ways to produce it industrially is a process called electrolysis, in which oxygen and hydrogen molecules are separated in water through the application of electricity. If this electricity comes from renewable sources, then this hydrogen is termed as green, resulting in an emission-free fuel.

Energy and mining minister, Juan Carlos Jobet, said in September 2020 that there is a potential market for green hydrogen in Chile that is “equivalent to what we export in copper” by 2050. The great renewable potential and the logistical location of the ports in the regions of Antofagasta, Atacama and Magallanes position Chile as one of the countries with the greatest potential to become a world exporter of green hydrogen.

In October 2020, Chile announced its first project to produce green hydrogen. National and foreign companies such as Enel Green Power Chile, AME, ENAP, Siemens Energy and Porsche will participate in the installation of a pilot plant through an electrolyzer powered by wind energy in Cabo Negro, north of Punta Arenas, in the Magallanes Region.

The energy ministry's presentation of the National Green Hydrogen Strategy at the end of 2020 and announcement of agreements with authorities from Singapore and Rotterdam (Netherlands) are also part of this same path. Little by little the initial challenges for producing this energy are being overcome.