The installation and operation of solar power plants in the north of the country is made more challenging by the difficulty of maintaining the power generation efficiency of photovoltaic panels in an arid and windy environment that requires increased cleaning rates, which is mainly done with water, a resource that is extremely scarce in the area.
The North of Chile is characterized by a climate phenomenon called the Camanchaca, which consists of a dense fog that drifts in from the coast to the interior parts of the continent and which contains large amounts of water. The Fog Collection project consists of conducting a theoretical and practical (pilot) study at the Chañares plant, to establish how much water is suspended in the fog, where there is more of it and how it can be captured by passive methods, that is, methods that do now require energy. It is expected that the study will establish which collectors are the most adequate according to local conditions. Mesh collectors and the use of the same solar panels will be considered among other ways of water capture. Such collection of water would permit Enel to take advantage of the natural condition of the Camanchaca phenomenon that occurs on the land where the plant is built, thus reducing the costs related to the purchase of water. It would also allow the Company to clean the panels more frequently and even create possible surpluses for other uses, such as domestic use, irrigation, green mantle growing under the panels (to increase their efficiency), green fences (to increase the safety of the facilities) and also making the resource available to local communities (with the release of our demand from the local market and with surpluses).
At the same time, Enel seeks to achieve a lower rate of degradation of the panels extending their lifespan thanks to the decrease of the appearance of hot spots.
Finally, the Camanchaca fog capture for cleaning processes would increase the panels´ performance ratio and would mean more generated energy.
The project will also contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions linked to the transfers of cistern trucks equivalent to 2.8-ton of CO2/year and which is part of the circular economy pillars of circular inputs and service life extension in addition to contributing to sustainable development goals number 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13.