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Renewable Energy

Patagonia National Park supplies itself with green electricity and storage

In the Patagonia National Park in Chile, an exceptional combination of hydropower, solar photovoltaics and a storage system provides the area’s electricity supply.1

The Patagonia National Park covers an area of 260,000 hectares in the south of Chile. Founded by Douglas and Kristine Tompkins, who were also founders of the successful outdoor fashion brand North Face, it serves to renature and preserve the wild landscape between the southern Pacific Ocean, the high mountains of the Andes and the Strait of Magellan.2

Island network established

The national park is far away from the power grid of the South American country. Here, the park facilities are supplied self-sufficiently. This not only includes the accommodation for the employees who are responsible for maintenance but also camping sites and buildings for visitors.

Until now, electricity to power all these facilities came from a dirty diesel generator. It was clear to the operators that this did not fit well with the park’s goal of environmental protection. That is why they have switched to green electricity.3

Water and sun provide the electricity

In the meantime, a river hydroelectric power station and a solar photovoltaic system supply the electricity for the park’s infrastructure. The two hydraulic turbines of the hydroelectric power plant and the solar modules installed next to them together achieve a combined output of 115 kilowatts. “But, combining river hydropower and photovoltaics is technically very demanding,” says Gonzalo Rodriguez. He is an engineer at the Patagonian installation company SyR Energía, which planned and implemented the project.4

Discontinuous power generation

In winter and spring, the rivers in Patagonia swell due to heavy rainfall and the melting of snow in the Andes. The floods drive the two small turbines to maximum output. At the same time, however, the solar plant supplies volatile electricity, which has to be balanced with the running capacity of the hydroelectric turbines.

In summer, however, the power of the rivers decreases, so that the hydroelectric power can no longer supply sufficient electricity. Then, the photovoltaic system takes over and uses sunshine.

Hand-in-hand, these two power generation methods work perfectly to match the climate of the region.

Storage system stores surpluses

The plant actually supplies more electricity than is directly consumed, and the energy supply must also be secured at night. For this reason, the entire system is supplemented by an electricity storage unit.

The lithium-ion system from the Wittenberg-based manufacturer Tesvolt, can store 144 kilowatt hours of electricity temporarily and feed it into the national park’s island grid with sufficient power to operate the entire infrastructure.

Reducing maintenance costs

It was important to the planners to use components that require little maintenance5, given that maintenance is extremely expensive. “The system has been running without any problems for exactly one year now,” says Rodriguez.

Although there are higher investment costs for the higher-quality components, these are recouped over the lifetime of the system through lower maintenance costs.

Patagonia National Park is a perfect example of how to use the climate and technology as a long-term economical, environmental advantage. The rest of the world can certainly learn from this.

REFERENCES:

[1] Hydro-PV microgrid in Patagonia, https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/09/09/hydro-pv-microgrid-in-patagonia/

[2] Patagonia Park, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patagonia_Park

[3] Chile’s Patagonia benefits from first hydroelectric-solar microgrid, https://www.powerengineeringint.com/renewables/chiles-patagonia-benefits-from-first-hydroelectric-solar-microgrid

[4] Hydroelectric-solar microgrid powering operations in Patagonia National Park, https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/2020/09/09/hydroelectric-solar-microgrid-powering-operations-in-patagonia-national-park/#gref

[5] First Hydroelectric-Solar Microgrid in Patagonia, https://www.renewableenergymagazine.com/panorama/first-hydroelectricsolar-microgrid-in-patagonia–20200909

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