Chile's SING grid to look 'notably different' by 2017

Northern Chile's SING power grid will be capable of managing a total of 1,000MW of wind and solar powered generation capacity by 2017, according to a new study from grid operator CDEC-SING.

Combined wind and solar capacity on the grid stood at 182MW as of January 2015, according to CDEC-SING data compiled by Chile's power generators association.

The operation of the grid will be "notably different" by 2017, the study said, due to three principal factors: the entrance of new thermoelectric capacity, the incorporation of non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) projects and the effects of interconnection with Argentina's national SADI grid.

There were 1,933MW of generation projects under construction on the SING as of February, according to national energy commission CNE. This total comprised photovoltaic solar (43%), concentrated solar power (6%), coal (24%) and natural gas (27%) projects.

Part of the challenge of integrating NCRE capacity onto the SING is that the bulk of output on the grid comes from coal-fired power stations, which accounted for 80% of generation on the grid in February and whose operation is relatively inflexible.

Coal-fired plants take a longer time to start up and shut down than plants powered by other conventional sources, such as natural gas, which can be problematic when managing intermittent output from renewable sources like wind and solar on the same grid.

Coal-fired plants also must be shut down periodically to perform scheduled maintenance, which could cause spot electricity prices to fluctuate as NCRE capacity grows, CDEC-SING said.

Flexibility will be key for the grid's conventional power generators, the report said, citing the ability of gas-fired plants to shut down during the day when NCRE output is highest and quickly start up at night when NCRE output is lowest.

Cutting edge grid management technology will be crucial to the SING's optimal operation as well, the study said.

CDEC-SING reached the 1,000MW conclusion considering various scenarios, including a hypothetical renewable capacity breakdown of 70% solar and 30% wind, as well as a scenario of 70% wind and 30% solar.

The study follows a related announcement from CDEC-SING that Chile's first-ever wide area monitoring (WAM) system will become operational on the SING during the first half of 2015.

The WAM system will comprise seven measurement points across the grid, allowing CDEC-SING to monitor and evaluate the management of an increasingly diverse mix of conventional and renewable generation.

Total installed generation capacity on the SING stood at 4,786MW as of January, according to the generators association. Capacity on the central SIC grid stood at 15,179MW.