Planning and Partnership with the University of Chile

Patricio has been in contact for a long time with Prof. Rodrigo Palma from the U. of Chile, who is one of the most active faculty members in the Power and Energy area of the Electrical Engineering department. He is the director of the “Centro de Energía” (Center of Energy, CE-FCFM) of the university, and hence, he is in close connection with many energy-related projects. Among those projects, there are two specific efforts in which Rodrigo envisioned potentially applying the Microformer:

  • Huatacondo village, in northern Chile, became the first sustainable microgrid system in that country, with a set of renewable energy sources and energy storage available for 24-hour electricity access. So far, solar and biomass power have been incorporated into the grid. Additionally, wind power will be integrated to this microgrid in the short-term. Due to the distance between the wind turbine and the village, the Microformer would be an ideal solution for the connection, with a 2-node extension topology, similar to what is already installed in the West Madison Agricultural Research Station.

Photo 1. A street view of Huantacondo, Chile

Photo 2. Mountain view of Huantacondo (solar panel installation at center of photo)

  • Mineral de Talca in north-central Chile, is a fishing community located a few hours from Santiago, Chile. Throughout its history, electrification has never reached its borders, since it is located far from feeders and substations. However, this coastal village is currently being provided with solar energy access on a per-house basis. Each house in the village has a rooftop solar panel and a small battery storage system. Some of the houses even have access to complementary gasoline or diesel generators. Preliminary studies show that the inhabitants may take advantage of an electricity distribution system among the houses. The Microformer project would be an excellent candidate for a small-scale distribution system, despite the location of energy sources. Two implementation options could be pursued: 1) the solar panels could be relocated in a central location to create one solar power plant facility, or 2) the existing solar panel system could operate as a microgrid of distributed solar panels.

The Microformer team and CE-FCFM concluded that the Huatacondo project was the best choice for a short-term prototype installation, while Mineral de Talca seemed to be a better project for continuing future cooperation. In this sense, the Huatacondo project would be the testing grounds for the Microformer solution in such an environment, and at the same time serve as a showroom to capture future interest not only from the same U. of Chile, but also from other players in the power and energy arena in Chile.

The Microformer team and CE-FCFM agreed in a cooperation proposal, which stated the objectives of the cooperation, as well as the milestones to be completed for the first stage (Huatacondo project). While the Microformer team would provide documentation and physical presence in Chile for the implementation, installation and commissioning, CE-FCFM would provide the facilities to carry out experiments and tests, seeking the cooperation of students.

Photo 3. The Energy Lab of FCFM

Photo 4. An Energy Center office

The agreement stated the involvement of two students whose thesis will be related to the Microformer project, as well as the involvement of other undergraduate students helping the thesis students. The results of the cooperation are twofold: first, two students would develop their thesis in Microformer-related work, namely the complete electrical and thermal model of the Microformer, and a study of a microgrid that uses the Microformer from a power system’s point of view; second, the rest of the students involved in the agreement would help the testing, implementation and installation stages of the project, supervised by the thesis students and the Microformer team.

Finally, the first stage of the cooperation agreement (Huatacondo project) had its timeline between March and June 2011. While the first months were more passive (recruit students, hand out documentation), the last month, May 2011, was by far the most active in terms of physical work as well as brainstorming. This planning and partnership work led directly into on the ground action with Patricio agreeing to travel to Chile over the course of about one month to implement the projects, beginning with the construction of Microformers at FCFM.

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The Microformer is a low-cost, post-consumer electrification concept. We believe it to be ideally suited for developing nation communities and off-grid renewable system integration.
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