First Solar Inc. has announced that its 141 MW AC Luz del Norte PV power plant is the world’s first utility-scale solar facility licenced to deliver ancillary grid services commercially. Chile’s independent system operator (ISO), Co-ordinador Eléctrico Nacional, recently added Luz del Norte to its portfolio of large-scale power generators that are approved to deliver a range of grid services, including automatic generation control (AGC).

The facility, located in Copiapó, Chile, is now being used by the ISO to manage the frequency of the country’s electricity system, to help ensure the grid’s reliability and stability. This follows an extensive audit, jointly conducted by Co-ordinador Eléctrico Nacional, Laborelec Latam, and First Solar, to evaluate the plant’s capabilities. Generally,  grid operators rely on thermoelectric or hydroelectric power plants to respond to changes in load by balancing generation.

“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.”

Utility-scale solar’s grid capabilities were previously proven as part of a 2016 demonstration project by the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO), the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and First Solar. The study examined a First Solar-designed power plant’s ability to provide AGC, primary frequency control, ramp rate control, and voltage regulation. It found that the PV power plant performed better than fast gas turbine technologies, which are typically used by grid operators to respond to load changes.

Utility-scale PV’s ability to provide ancillary services was one of the solutions selected by the Mission Innovation programme, for its potential to deliver close to 30 million metric tons of avoided emissions per year. The programme, which is a global initiative of 24 countries, including the United States, and the European Commission, is working towards accelerating clean energy innovation.  

Commissioned in 2016, Luz del Norte is one of the largest PV plants in Chile. It is powered by First Solar’s proprietary thin film module technology, developed at its research and development centres in California and Ohio.