Enel Green Power will build an innovative 1.7 MW solar PV field that will provide energy to La Silla Observatory in Chile. It will be the world's first industrial-scale array to combine conventional panels and bifacial modules that capture solar energy on both sides of the panel. It will also be a smart system
Using the sun to brighten up the stars. On the slopes of Cerro La Silla in Chile, at a site that is 2,400 metres above sea level and one of the darkest places on Earth, Enel Green Power will build an innovative solar plant that will power the European Southern Observatory (ESO), where some of the world’s largest telescopes are used to study the stars.
The solar PV plant at La Silla is the world’s first industrial-scale facility combining bifacial smart modules and conventional panels where the performance of cutting-edge technologies can be tested and compared with that of conventional panels at the same site. The smart modules are equipped with a microchip that optimises the output of each panel, enabling it to function independently and provide energy to the grid regardless of possible anomalies or malfunctions. The bifacial modules capture solar energy on both sides, unlike traditional ones, which can capture energy only on one side.
The construction of the plant, which will generate 1.7 MW, will require an investment of some $3.4 million. It is expected to be completed within the first half of 2016, and will make it possible to generate around 4.75 GWh per year, equivalent to the energy needs of almost 2,000 households and more than 50% of the observatory’s annual consumption. The energy generated by La Silla will reduce emissions by more than 2,000 tonnes of CO2.
Innovation and efficiency are at the centre of the system conceived at La Silla. The combined use of smart and bifacial panels is expected to increase generation capacity by 5%-10% compared to a traditional solar PV plant of the same size.
La Silla Observatory, which has been operating since 1976, is a historic stronghold of ESO research and an outpost of the best available technologies for observation of the sky and celestial bodies. The centre hosts two of the organisation’s largest telescopes. The New Technology Telescope (NTT) – with a 3.58 metre diameter – has opened new paths for telescope engineering and planning and was the first in the world with a computer-controlled main mirror (active optics), a technology developed at ESO that is now applied to most telescopes in the world. The ESO’s 3.6 metre telescope, for its part, has been installed with the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), the world’s foremost exoplanet planet searcher.