La Silla: Where innovation makes the sun more efficient

Published on Friday, 28 April 2017

“La Silla is one of the EGP plants most projected toward the future. And the innovative technologies that we’ve chosen to test are already proving themselves, just six months after the launch of the solar farm.”

Innovation at the edge of the world

At the top of Cerro La Silla, there is one of the most prestigious astronomical observatories in the world, where NASA recently discovered the 7 new Earth-like planets outside our solar system.

To power the telescopes of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) just a few kilometres away, there is our photovoltaic field, an open-air laboratory where we combine the use of two-sided and smart modules with on-board electronics with conventional modules, in order to test the performance of innovative technologies compared to the conventional ones on the same site.

In order to create the La Silla field, we put together our best skills in the field of solar, combining the experience of the Engineering and Construction and Maintenance departments with that of the Innovation team. A team project that, in its 4 months of construction, involved more than 100 people.

“La Silla was a project with many interesting challenges from a technical viewpoint. Innovation and development of renewable energies is the identity of Enel Green Power.”

– Juan Francisco Mateo García, Solar Project Engineer - Engineering & Construction for EGP

Where the sun is “more efficient”

When we put the La Silla plant into operation, in September 2016, we had estimated that the innovative panels might increase the generation power between 5% and 10% compared to a traditional photovoltaic plant of the same size.

The two-sided modules installed at La Silla are able to use the reflection of light and capture energy even on the side that is not directly exposed to the sun’s rays. We installed them with a mono-axial tracker system that allows them to follow the sun from east to west, from sunrise to sunset, and also helps to reduce the accumulation of sand and dirt on the surface of the modules.

“The data collected so far in the experimentation of the two-sided modules surprised us: their average production level exceeds that of the most common panels on the market by more than 12%.”

In six months we have processed more than 75 million bits of information to monitor the performance of individual modules hour by hour: Big Data collected and analysed to confirm our hypotheses with facts.

Our innovation has created a sort of digital bridge, made up of a continuous flow of information, which crosses the Atlantic Ocean, bringing together the plant at the foot of Cerro La Silla and the Enel Innovation Lab in Catania, located at the foot of another mountain, Etna, in Sicily (Italy).

Those who start off well must keep going

The results of our work carried out between September 2016 and today are more than satisfactory, but anyone who saw La Silla’s open-air laboratory come into being and grow knows how much effort it takes to bring innovative projects forward.

 

“Innovation passes through experimentation: testing new solutions allows us to better explore all the characteristics of new technologies and identify their advantages and disadvantages.”

– Agnese Di Stefano, Specialist in Innovative Solutions IBO Solar for EGP.

We still have a long way to go. What awaits us are millions of data to collect and process, days to pass under the blazing sun of the Atacama Desert and thousands of kilometres to travel, going back and forth from La Silla to the closest town where it’s possible to stay the night. 

“Here in Chile, we are all working together to discover more and more about solar energy and studying the results from La Silla in the hopes of finding performance that can be perfectly scalable to other plants.”

– Juan Pedro Alonso, PM Innovation Projects EGP Chile

The challenge to the future of solar energy that we’ve launched from this far-off corner of the Atacama Desert continues and the first results tell us that we risked a lot, but have chosen the right path.