The El Romero solar power plant will be installed with 776,000 photovoltaic modules. Credit: Acciona.
The PV modules are installed on static metal structures. Credit: HEC Global.
The solar equipment for the El Romero project is being installed by STI Norland. Credit: STI Norland.

El Romero is a 246MW photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant being developed in the Vallenar municipality in the Atacama Desert, Chile. The project is being touted as Latin America’s biggest PV plant and one of the ten biggest PV projects in the world.

The plant is 100% owned by Acciona Energy, the energy division of renewable energy company, Acciona Group. It will generate 493GWh of clean energy a year, sufficient to power 240,000 houses in Chile.

Construction of the $343m project was initiated in October 2015, with completion scheduled for early 2017. The start-up phase of the plant began in November 2016.

The new solar power plant will help offset 474,000mt of carbon dioxide emissions a year from the existing coal-fired power stations in the country.

More than 475 jobs are expected to be created during the construction phase of the project.

El Romero solar power project background

The National Energy Commission (CNE) of Chile awarded a contract to Acciona Energy in 2014 for the supply of 600GW of renewable electricity a year to the power distributors in Chile operating in the Central Interconnected System (SIC) region, for a period of 15 years from 2018 to 2032.

Pursuant to the contract, Acciona will develop non-conventional renewable energy sources including wind power and photovoltaic plants to generate the power. According to its initial plan, the company will invest approximately $500m to deliver the plants with a combined capacity of 255MW.

Once the plants are operational, Acciona will sign power supply agreements for the 2018-2032 period with distributors operating in the region.

The 600GW of electricity ordered will be sufficient to power approximately 300,000 homes in Chile or the energy content of 354,000 barrels of oil. Further, it will offset 576,600mt of carbon dioxide emissions a year from coal-fired power stations.

El Romero solar PV plant location and make-up

The El Romero solar power plant is being developed on a 280ha site in the Atacama Desert, which is one of the world’s driest and hottest places. The location witnesses a high level of solar radiation and clean air, enabling optimal capture of the sun’s energy.

The plant will be installed with 776,000 polycrystalline silicon photovoltaic modules, which when lined up create a total solar capture surface of more than 1.5 million m², equivalent to 211 soccer fields. The modules will be installed on static metal structures stretching up to 196km when lined up.

Transmission and power supply agreements

“The new solar power plant will help offset 474,000mt of carbon dioxide emissions a year from the existing coal-fired power stations in the country.”

Power transmission facilities at the El Romero project include a new 33/220kV substation and 1.089MW DC/AC converters. The new substation will be connected with the Maitencillo to Sugarloaf line of the SIC grid.

Acciona signed a power supply agreement with Google in December 2015 to supply the latter’s data centre in Chile with 80MW of renewable energy produced by the El Romero plant.

Contractors involved with the El Romero solar power project

HEC Global is the general contractor for civil works and also the subcontractor for mechanical installation of the plant.

Ingeteam is supplying control, protection and measurement systems for the solar plant’s booster substation. The contractual scope includes provision of electrical engineering, cabinet supply and digital equipment as well as commissioning of the substation and connection to different tele-control desks.

Spanish manufacturer STI Norland is supplying half of the equipment for the solar project including fixed structures along with solar and photo voltaic modules. The company will also undertake installation of 196MW of equipment, including 9,714 units of STI‐F5 fixed structures, 388560 JA Solar and Hareon PV modules and foundations execution.

ABB is supplying 180 PVS800 solar inverters, 60 units of 3.6MW vacuum cast coil dry-type transformers, 60 medium-voltage switchgears, 60 control cabinets with programmable logic controller (PLC), 60 UPS systems and a central control cabinet with PLC.

Clever Global is involved in providing document management and validation system services for the project.