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Sustainable Plants: Innovation and sustainability at the Cornatel hydroelectric plant in Spain

3 min.

Sustainable Plants: Innovation and sustainability at the Cornatel hydroelectric plant in Spain

We’re beginning a journey to discover Enel Green Power’s sustainable plants – assets that stand out for their best practices in safeguarding the environment and positive impacts for local communities. First stop: the Cornatel hydroelectric plant in Spain.

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Sustainability throughout the value chain is a challenge we strive to respond to every day in our business. Since the development of the sustainable plant model, there are over a thousand renewable plants that have implemented the sustainable initiatives held in the Catalogue of Practices for the SUS Plant model, creating virtuous cycles and increasing positive impacts for the communities around our plants.

One of the most successful examples is the Cornatel hydroelectric plant, in Spain. Opened in 1964, with an installed capacity of 130.7 MW, it is located in the town of Rubiá – in the autonomous community of Galicia – and near El Bierzo, inhabited by about 80,000 people.

The Cornatel sustainable plant has implemented several initiatives for optimized operational efficiency; it is perfectly integrated into the community, thanks in part to the involvement of local suppliers, and very aware of environmental issues.


Cornatel: synonymous with innovation

Cornatel is in the forefront in adopting innovative techniques to increase plant productivity. Thanks to SUS Plant model practices, we were able to reduce maintenance costs and times and see positive effects on the environment and on safety, using the principle of circularity.


“It is our responsibility to actively promote any initiative aimed at further developing sustainability. Hydroelectric technology must become the standard-bearer, since it is the largest source of renewable energy in the world. At Enel, we try to promote best practices in the development of sustainable hydroelectric energy. We want them to be proactive, inclusive and dynamic. Some of these have been implemented at the Cornatel hydroelectric plant, which has become a symbol of our sustainable plants in the hydroelectric sector.”

- Silvia Fernández Gómez - Head of O&M/HY/IB/Ag Orense-Zamora U.T. Ponferr. - Enel Green Power Spain


Innovations at Cornatel include robots that can unblock water flows by pulverizing algae, key to the aquatic food chain, providing economic savings and increased safety for plant operations. Recently, a plant inspection system was introduced using drones to support on-site personnel, optimizing time and costs of control operations and thereby improving safety conditions. Training courses for O&M personnel to get drone pilot licenses are underway: an important added value for the skillset of our people.


The Circular economy and respect for biodiversity

Our sustainable plant model aims not only for production efficiency, but also to increase our positive impact on the environment. Near the Cornatel plant, we’ve initiated the recovery and removal of wood and foliage accumulated in the grates of the Montearenas Travase dam, which is scheduled to be dredged in 2021. The quantity of timber collected each year is estimated at about 15 containers: organic material will be delivered to a biomass plant recently activated in Cubillos del Sil, with a view to the circular economy and waste management savings.

At the plant, a micro-generator has also been adopted to power the water purification system needed for the refrigeration circuit, reducing auxiliary consumption and putting water back into circulation. At strategic points of the river, we’ve placed several cameras to continuously monitor flow trends and compliance with standards, providing a control system that goes beyond regulatory compliance.

To safeguard the biodiversity around the plant – especially near the bodies of water – lateral escape ramps have been placed to allow local fauna to cross the channels safely without the risk of being taken and carried away by high water flows.


Environmental protection and energy savings

From an environmental point of view, Cornatel uses biodegradable oils where any possible spillages into the channel might occur. The adoption of completely oil-free plant components is planned for the future.

In the entire Cornatel system, lighting has been completely replaced with LED technology: at the Campañana dam, the Excitatrices facility, the transformer room, the control room and outside the plant. All the plant’s drives are electric and, in 2019, a charging station for electric vehicles was installed. The vehicles are used by the staff for movements within the area and surrounding zones.

Because of these positive sustainability practices, Cornatel is one of the best examples of how our SUS Plant model can make even our “oldest” source of green energy production – hydroelectric – more efficient.

Our journey into the heart of sustainability has just begun. In the next episode, we’ll tell you about another technology in another country.

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