First hydro-solar microgrid in Patagonia

15 September 2020

A run-of-river hydroelectric power station, photovoltaic installation, and battery storage system have been combined to provide facilities in the Patagonia National Park with electricity from renewable energy sources. The park is part of what is considered to be one of the most important nature conservation projects in the world. 

The park owes its existence to the vision and financial means of “North Face’ founders Douglas and Kristine Tompkins, who moved to Chile in the early 1990s to push for the preservation of some of the most impressive wild landscapes in the world. Together, they helped create and extend 15 national parks in Chile and Argentina and eventually worked with both governments to protect over 14 million hectares of land.

The Patagonia National Park is located at a great distance from the nearest public utility grid. The power requirements of the park’s facilities have to date been provided by diesel generators. 

“Combining run-of-river hydroelectric power and a photovoltaic installation is technically very demanding,” commented Gonzalo Rodriguez, engineer at the Patagonian installation company SyR Energía who planned and executed the project. To achieve a total output of 115 kW peak, two hydraulic turbines were combined with a solar system, both with AC coupling. The lithium-ion battery storage units have a capacity of 144 kWh.

In winter and spring, the Patagonian rivers are swollen by heavy rainfall and snowmelt from the Andes. In summer, the water level in the rivers drops significantly and the required electricity is then supplied by the photovoltaic installation. Excess electricity is temporarily stored in the battery storage systems from the German manufacturer Tesvolt.

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