A more sustainable observatory: Calar Alto will be converted into an “energy island”

Calar Alto Observatory starts its energy transition thanks to a ERDF (European Regional Development Fund)-supported project.

Using biomass and solar energy will considerably reduce the ecological imprint of the observatory, as well as the costs associated to its energy needs.

interiorThe Calar Alto Observatory, the largest optical observatory in mainland Europe, has been, since its establishment in 1973, one of the motors of the development of Spanish astrophysics. Located in the Sierra de los Filabres (Almería), at an altitude of over two thousand and one hundred meters, the observatory faces considerable needs in energy derived from its situation in a high mountain range and its technological features. In the next months, thanks to a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF/FEDER), the observatory will partially replace its energy sources to reduce its ecological footprint.

"Due to the peculiar characteristics of the environments surrounding professional astronomical observatories, the costs in fuel and electricity are high – points out Jesús Aceituno, director of the observatory and principal investigator of the project –. By implementing the Calar Alto energy island, we pretend to be a world reference for other professional observatories as a management model that helps the environment, with an estimated reduction of a hundred and sixty tons of carbon dioxide per year and the resulting optimization of the associated costs".

The project includes the installation of a biomass boiler to substitute the use of diesel fuel for heating and hot water, a solar power production system, and changing the observatory vehicle fleet for electric cars.

For example, using biomass will suppose an annual saving of thirty-three thousand euros with respect to the current cost, in addition to the saving of self-consumption through photovoltaic panels, that will meet the facility’s needs during day time and which are the most expensive of the energy rates. Implementing these actions also avoids losses due to the transport of energy, enhances the independence from electrical companies, and reduces the carbon dioxide emissions generated in the power supply plants.

Equally, the fleet of vehicles was substituted in part by electric cars which, in addition to reduce contamination, may be used as a benchmark for testing these cars in extreme conditions.

“On one hand, this project aims at optimizing the way we consume and produce energy at the observatory. On the other hand, we want to demonstrate that it is possible to guarantee the power supply in extreme climatic conditions for a high-tech facility, in altitude, while generating savings and reducing enormously our impact on the environment”, says Marco Azzaro, manager of the project.

This project is funded by ERDF/FEDER program reference ICTS2017-07-CAHA-4 and by ICTS support program from the scientific and technological structures and equipment national subprogram reference CAHA-16-CE-3978.

Calar Alto Observatory is one of the infrastructures that belong to the national map of Unique Scientific and Technical Infrastructures (Spanish acronym: ICTS), approved on November 6th, 2018, by the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Council


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