A 9 MW solar facility has been commissioned at the Paranal Observatory operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and will also power the world’s largest telescope currently under construction at the observatory.
The power station is divided into two subunits with a capacity of 4 MW and 5 MW.
The first of the two facilities is designed to meet the observatory’s current and projected daytime demands – the largest energy demand comes from cooling systems for multiple telescopes, including the world’s most advanced optical and near-infrared Very Large Telescope (VLT).
The second unit is used for the total power requirements of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) under normal daytime conditions, which is currently under construction and will be the largest optical telescope in the world with a primary mirror of 39 meters in diameter.
The photovoltaic complex consists of 18,565 double-sided panels mounted on trackers, spread over 7.2 hectares of land, with an equipment utilization rate of 37%. The construction took nine months and required a total investment of US$10 million.
The excess electricity generated by the power station will be fed into the national electricity system.
Expected to be operational by the end of the century, the ELT is said to be a telescope that will revolutionize astronomy, as it will detect planets similar to Earth orbiting other stars, promising to be the first astronomical instrument to find evidence of life outside our solar system.