Operation & Maintenance: “Everyday” Challenges
Torrential rains in the Amazon, record-setting winds in Oklahoma, harsh winters in the Italian Alps and the “Martian” climate of the Atacama Desert in Chile: near Enel Green Power plants around the world, weather conditions and nature are a force to be reckoned with.
EGP’s Operation & Maintenance (O&M) teams, working at our over 1,200 plants, are constantly exposed to nature’s power and unpredictability. It is a hard job, but it’s far from the everyday routine.
Their job is to make sure that every single part of the plant – solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells, penstocks – works optimally and without interruption.
When the race to build a plant ends, another complex challenge begins. Engineering & Construction (E&C) teams pass the baton to O&M teams and a new chapter begins: there are new rules and skills, new goals and challenges. One constant remains: nature, which demands our respect every day.
The day it rained on Mars
Atacama, in northern Chile, is famous for being one of the most arid regions on the planet: in the desert areas, temperatures can climb to 40° and the aridity makes plant life rare.
And yet, in this corner of Mars on Earth on 12 May of this year, dawn brought torrential rains, the likes of which hadn’t been seen for almost a century. In the city of Antofagasta alone, 23.6 mm of rain fell from the sky in just 24 hours (the average is about 1.7 mm). It was like 14 years of rainfall came down in one day.
The unexpected flooding caused damage and even casualties. For the members of our Operation & Maintenance (O&M) teams at EGP’s five solar plants in the region, it was a real test against the forces of nature, and against time.
Rain, mud and debris put the photovoltaic fields of Chañares, Carrera Pinto, Lalackama, Pampa Norte and Diego de Almagro into a state of full emergency. Panels were damaged and plant production was reduced.
"Working 24 hours a day, our O&M teams took just two days to bring 4 out of 5 plants back into full operation and to restore their 321 MW of power."
Working 7 days a week, they returned the solar fields to their pre-flood conditions in about two months.
The role of teamwork in emergency conditions
In Atacama, people and a well-run intervention plan made all the difference. First and foremost, the teams of O&M Chile were involved, with key support from Central O&M.
The first step was to create parallel working groups and coordinate 24/7 efforts. The teams focused on the most affected areas, to get power back as soon as possible.
Activities on the ground were supported by other functions, such as Health, Safety, Environment & Quality and Procurement. Only because we knew the market and our strategic partners well, we were able to reach out to the contractors most suitable to the needs of the moment.
"The torrential rains that sthe arid desert of the Antofagasta region are an example of the unpredictable conditions nature can cause at our facilities every day."
The list of unexpected events that happen in Latin America, like in Europe, is long and varies from place to place. In particular, it includes the flooding that hits the Mato Grosso, where the Apiacás hydroelectric complex is located, winds that exceed 200 Km/h blowing through our wind turbines in Oklahoma and heavy snowfall coming down on our dams in the Italian Alps.
O&M teams in Chile were able to respond to the May flooding in record times because they have the skills and experience that are common in our O&M teams around the world.
Every place has its own story and different challenges for our O&M teams. Every extraordinary event caused by natural events requires extraordinary effort and skills to respond to it.