US-based solar giant First Solar announced last week that its 141MW Luz del Norte solar PV plant in Chile will be the world’s first utility-scale solar facility licensed to deliver ancillary grid services on a commercial basis.
First Solar – which is both a solar panel manufacturer and provider of utility-scale solar PV power plants and supporting services – announced last Thursday that Chile’s Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional, the country’s independent system operator (ISO), recently added the Luz del Norte solar PV plant to its portfolio of large-scale power generators that are approved to deliver a range of grid services, including automatic generation control (AGC).
“We are very pleased with this achievement as this increases the spectrum of technologies capable of providing the services needed to maintain a safe and reliable operation of the electrical system,” said Carlos Barria, head of the Forecast and Regulatory Analysis, and Environment and Climate Change at Chile’s Ministry of Energy.
“These demonstrated capabilities are in line with our plans in integrating higher levels of renewable energy in our grid, which will enable us to achieve our goal to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2040 and to be carbon neutral by 2050.”
The 141MW Luz del Norte solar PV plant is located in Copiapó, a city in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, and is now being used by Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional to manage the frequency of the country’s electricity system, providing grid reliability and stability.
One of the country’s largest solar PV plants, the project is made up of over 1.7 million advanced thin-film PV modules, generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of 50,000 average Chilean homes.
The decision to include Luz del Norte in the ISO’s grid services portfolio followed an extensive audit to evaluate the plant’s capabilities carried out between Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional, First Solar, and the Latin America-arm of electrical power technology and sustainable energy firm ENGIE Laborelec.
Traditionally, grid services have had to be provided exclusively by thermoelectric or hydroelectric power plants, as consistent, uninterruptible, and unvaried power was necessary to respond to changes in load by balancing generation.
This is partly why the decision to Luz del Norte in the ISO’s grid services portfolio is such a big deal and could represent a sea change in the roles that renewable energy generation can play.
The grid capabilities of utility-scale solar were previously proven as part of a 2016 demonstration project by the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO), the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and First Solar, which examined a First Solar-designed power plant’s ability to provide automatic generation control (AGC), primary frequency control, ramp rate control, and voltage regulation.
The report found that the solar PV power plant performed better than fast gas turbine technologies, which are typically used by grid operators to respond to load changes.
First Solar also pointed out that utility-scale solar PV’s ability to provide ancillary services was also one of the solutions selected by the Mission Innovation program for its potential to deliver close to 30 million metric tons of avoided emissions per year.
“Chile’s visionary approach to designing its future grid allowed us to take a proven concept and implement a commercially and technically viable solution,” said Troy Lauterbach, Senior Vice President, First Solar Energy Services.
“As utility companies and ISOs around the world grapple with the challenge of decarbonising their grids, Luz del Norte has come to represent the realizable 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.”