Luz del Norte Solar PV Plant in Chile
The Luz del Norte photovoltaic (PV) power plant, developed and operated by First Solar. Image: First Solar.

Chile’s Independent System Operator Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional has announced that its 141MW Luz del Norte PV power plant is the world’s first known utility-scale solar facility licenced to deliver ancillary grid services commercially.

Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional recently added the Luz del Norto solar power plant to its portfolio of large-scale power generators approved to deliver a range of grid services, including automatic generation control.

At the moment, most grid operators rely on thermoelectric or hydroelectric power plants to balance their generation load.

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Luz del Norto, which is situated in Copiapó in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, will now be used by the Independent System Operator (ISO) to help ensure grid reliability and stability while generating clean, renewable energy.

Commissioned in 2016, Luz del Norte is one the largest PV plants in Chile. It is powered by First Solar’s proprietary thin film module technology and generates enough electricity to power 50,000 Chilean homes while using no water.

This decision to use a solar PV plant for ancillary services follows an extensive audit conducted by Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional, renewable energy research and consultancy service provider Laborelec Latam and solar panel manufacturer and provider of grid-scale solar PV plants, First Solar.

Carlos Barria, head of forecast and regulatory analysis and environment and climate change at Chile’s Ministry of Energy said they are pleased with this achievement as it increases the spectrum of technology available to maintain a safe and reliable electricity system.

“These demonstrated capabilities are in line with our plans in integrating higher levels of renewable energy on our grid, which will enable us to achieve our goal to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2040 and be carbon neutral by 2050,” said Barria.

Solar PV technology proven useful for ancillary services

Utility-scale solar’s grid balancing capability was proven as part of a demonstration project by California Independent Systems Operator, the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and First Solar in 2016.

That study examined a First Solar-designed power plant’s ability to provide automatic generation control, primary frequency control, ramp rate control and voltage regulation.

It found that the PV power plant performed better than fast gas turbine technologies, which is what is typically used by grid operators to respond to load changes.

Utility-scale PV’s ability to provide ancillary services is also one of the solutions selection by the Mission Innovation programme for its potential to avoid up to 30 million tons of emissions in a year.

The senior vice president of First Solar energy services, Troy Lauterbach, said Chile’s visionary approach to designing its future grid has allowed them to take a proven concept and implement a commercially and technically viable solution.

“As utility companies and ISO’s around the world grapple with the challenge of decarbonising their grids, Luz del Norte has come to represent the realisable potential of large-scale solar. By delivering a combination of clean electricity and no-carbon grid services, it demonstrates the value of investing in large-scale solar.”

The Mission Innovation programme is a global initiative to accelerate clean energy innovation. It involves 25 countries, including the US, Chile, Mexico and the European Commission.