A privileged witness of the evolution of the electricity sector and of the body that oversees the system has been Ernesto Huber. The civil electrical engineer joined the Center for Economic Load Dispatch of the Central Interconnected System (CDECSIC) in 1999 - formed that year as an entity independent from the companies - and since 2017 he has served as Operation Manager of the Electricity Coordinator. In the latter he took on a new challenge a month ago: executive management. This, in the months that would be more critical in the midst of the energy tightness that the system is experiencing, in which a preventive rationing decree is in force.
Even though the scenario was much tighter, he assures that today they are seeing a much less risky situation, although they know that some contingencies may arise, for example, as a result of the international conflict that may reduce the imported fuel supply and the hydrological conditions.
"There can always be more catastrophic scenarios, but today the system has elements to meet tight situations".
The above, because although conditions have improved after the April rains, "we cannot lower our guard". "We always have to continue monitoring because, together with the hydrological conditions, some other contingency may occur in the system", he warns.
In any case, he stresses: "Under normal operating conditions, we do not see any risk of rationing. These are seen in the most critical simulated scenarios shown in the security of supply studies, which consider assumptions of prolonged failures of two 350 MW plants, together with the worst hydrological conditions, and diesel logistics problems".
- Are there still risks, but electricity rationing is ruled out?
- The risk situation that we saw at the beginning of this year has been reduced quite a bit. There is an improvement in the hydrological condition and reservoir levels. Not only the inflowing power but also the reservoir levels have improved. We have also seen satellite photos with more snow cover compared to last year. The postponement of the retirement of Bocamina II, the commissioning of a reinforcement that was made in an important section of the transmission system between the Polpaico and Lo Aguirre substation that allows us to bring more energy from the northern zone, are all improvements.
However, when we do the safety study, we have to model several scenarios and particularly we have a quite critical one, which has the driest hydrological conditions, failure of important units for prolonged periods and restrictions in diesel logistics. In these hypothetical scenarios we still see certain risk conditions. That is why it is very important that the plants that use diesel fuel have their tanks at their highest capacity. Today we have tanks above 70% and that has allowed us to face particular situations.
- Can rationing still not be ruled out?
- In last month's safety study, the failed energy of this period, of these most critical winter months, was around 80 GWh. At the beginning of the year, the energy was around 500 or 600 GWh. So, all these conditions have reduced quite a lot that failed energy that one sees in the simulated critical scenario studies. Our analysis shows that there are still tight supply situations. This month we are going to update the safety study again to determine if in the more critical hypothetical scenarios this risk still appears.
- There are advantages that we didn't have last year?
- Of course. In the most extreme simulated scenario, we see there a small amount of failed energy, but with the operational reserve and with the water reserve we have today in the reservoirs, we can cover those critical scenarios. There can always be more catastrophic scenarios, but today the system has the elements to cover tight situations. With all these elements and, fundamentally, the water reserve and the operational reserve of the reservoirs, today we have more peace of mind. We do not see supply risks under normal operating conditions. In the southern zone, if diesel logistics problems were to occur, as we had in the summer, they are solved by postponing works in the transmission system, so, undoubtedly, the electric system is on a much better footing than what we saw at the beginning of this year.
Exit of power plants
- Do you see a need for a further delay in the retirement of units 14 and 15 of Engie's Tocopilla thermal power plant?
- The security of supply studies already consider the retirement of these two units. Therefore, today we do not see the need to postpone the retirement of these units.
- And in the case of Bocamina II, could it be completed this time in September?
- With the conditions we have in the system so far, we see that a new postponement of the retirement of the Bocamina II power plant would not be necessary.
- AES Andes requested the definitive retirement of Ventanas I. Is it possible from a safety point of view?
- We do not see any negative impact on the supply of the system either. There is a specific situation that we have seen in the area of the Fifth Coastal Region, but today we are achieving security of supply of consumption with the Ventanas II power plant, which is still in operation while waiting for the reinforcement works in the Agua Santa substation to be completed. We expect this expansion to be completed by the end of this year.
- As it is an "enabler" of decarbonization, will the monitoring of the Kimal-Lo Aguirre line be more continuous compared to Cardones-Polpaico?
-There is no doubt that we gained a lot of experience in the Cardones-Polpaico connection and the delay in the southern section. We have a working group that has already had meetings with the consortium that will build the Kimal-Lo Aguirre line. This consortium is made up of teams that have a lot of experience, so we expect this line to be in service on schedule. Of course there are always imponderables and there may be delays, but we will start working with them, with a very close monitoring to evaluate the development of the project.
Next steps on the roadmap
towards an accelerated energy transition
Huber details that they are waiting for eventual comments to the document and that there will also be meetings to advance in this process.
A few weeks ago, the Electricity Coordinator presented the document "Roadmap for an accelerated energy transition", whose objective is to analyze scenarios and define actions to achieve 100% renewable energy participation as of 2030.
After the presentation, they are waiting for possible comments from the industry and a series of steps are contemplated where there will also be meetings to advance in this process. For example, within the scope of complementary services, he indicates that they are awaiting comments on a report where they have incorporated the need for the concept of "grid strength", thinking that technologies should be available particularly in the northern part of the system.
"Synchronous capacitors we see that it is one of the technologies that could be enabling and, therefore, we have already added in this report the need to incorporate this technology in a bidding process that as Coordinator we should carry out and see how we could have this cost effective solution in service for the year 2025-2026. This is a very relevant first step to follow this roadmap", says Ernesto Huber.
He emphasizes that the diagnoses coincide with what they have presented, so they see "a very good opportunity and willingness of the industry and the unions in general to participate in this process".