An abundance of year-round sunlight makes the Atacama Desert in the northern part of Chile an ideal location to construct a solar power plant. The new 110-megawatt plant, named Cerro Dominador, is a concentrated solar power (CSP) facility, that utilizes 10,600 mirrors (heliostats) arranged in a circle to reflect sunlight onto a central tower 243 feet high. By heating up and melting the chemical salt inside the tower, water is vaporized, and the steam drives a turbine to generate electricity. The efficiency and profitability of the plant depends on the solar radiation staying focused on the tower. Electrical output will decrease if the temperature of the chemical salts is reduced, so it is important that the heliostats are constantly aligned correctly with the sun and the tower.
The positional adjustment of the heliostats is automated, and monitored at the control center. Heliostat Control Boxes (HCB) receive sun position information from central servers, and determine the angle of heliostat arrays at any given moment,. To maximize productivity, this interconnected system requires a redundant, economical, and robust Ethernet solution that is easy to set up and manage.
EtherWAN was entrusted with the creation of a highly reliable data communications network, xonnecting all devices in the 700 hectare (1730 acre) facility. Each HCB is connected to an EX43000 industrial unmanaged switch, which is equipped with relay alarms for power and link failure. The EX43000 switches are arranged in an Alpha-chain, a self-healing technology created by EtherWAN designed to provide redundancy in complex networks. Interoperable with other redundancy protocols, Alpha-chain provides fast fault recovery according to a user-defined timeout count.
Each Alpha-chain is linked to a pair of EX61000A industrial managed switches, interconnected with EX27000 all-fiber interface managed switches into an Alpha-ring. Alpha-Ring is a proprietary EtherWAN technology that provides a failover time of less than 15 milliseconds in the event of failure of any component in the ring. Through the Alpha-ring, control room servers are connected with redundant backbone connections. All three models of EtherWAN switch employed in this solution are hardened against extreme temperatures, and are designed for years of nonstop data transmission at a full range of data loading.