SDM Alums Use Systems Thinking to Help Power Chilean Observatory

Jorge Moreno, left, and Donny Holaschutz at the Paranal Observatory.Figure 1. The European Southern Observatory's facilities.Figure 2. Artist's rendering of European Extremely Large Telescope.Figure 3Figure 4 By Jorge Moreno, SDM ’11, and Donny Holaschutz, SDM ’10
March 27, 2014

Jorge Moreno, SDM ’11, and Donny Holaschutz, SDM ’10, launched their consulting company, inodú, to bring innovative solutions to the globe’s energy and sustainability challenges. Recently, the company took on a major project to help the Chilean Energy Ministry and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) find energy supply alternatives for one of the most advanced observatory complexes in the world. Learn more about their work in this presentation, which is part of the MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series.

Jorge Moreno, left, and Donny Holaschutz at the Paranal Observatory.

The challenge: With crystal clear skies and dry air, the European Southern Observatory is located in one of the best 1,000 square kilometers for astronomic observation on the planet (Figure 1). In the next 10 years, the ESO plans to expand its facilities by constructing the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) on a mountain in Chile known as Cerro Armazones (Figure 2). The E-ELT will be 22 kilometers from the existing Paranal Observatory. The addition of the E-ELT will triple the electricity consumption in an area that is currently isolated from the grid.

Figure 1. The European Southern Observatory’s facilities. © ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Figure 2. Artist’s rendering of European Extremely Large Telescope.[1] © ESO/L. Calçada

The planned construction of the E-ELT and the challenges faced by the current energy system encouraged ESO to re-evaluate its energy supply strategy. Working with the Chilean Energy Ministry and ESO, inodú developed solutions that could help the latter cope with planned increases in energy consumption, identify energy efficiency measures, and satisfy the need for electricity in a more reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly manner. The project led by inodú is part of a long history of collaboration between the Chilean government and ESO, and it aligns with the goals of the Chilean Energy Strategy 2012-2030, which aims to scale up the deployment of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency measures.

The approach: To re-architect ESO’s energy system and identify sustainable energy-efficiency measures, inodú used an integrated set of methodologies grounded in systems thinking. The company began by investigating the facts and key stakeholders’ perceptions of how the energy system should create value for current and future observatory operations. The team visited the Paranal Observatory facilities to evaluate the existing energy system and to learn what is needed for a night of observations. Finally, inodú engaged local suppliers of batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and various types of fossil fuel generators to explore what potential energy solutions are available in the market.

The inodú team then developed energy system goals and requirements. By engaging the stakeholders and understanding the local context, the team was able to consider the system beyond purely economic considerations—including such properties as reliability, maintainability, flexibility, adaptability, reparability, modularity, evolve-ability, robustness, and environmental friendliness. The system goals and requirements synthesized by the team were used to establish a frame of reference by which all possible solutions could be evaluated.

Next, inodú employed a powerful modeling tool to evaluate many hybrid system configurations (solar, wind, batteries, and fossil fuel generators) and assess them in light of the defined system goals and requirements. These potential solutions were then compared to connecting the observatory to the grid, 50 kilometers from the facility. Finally, the team conducted a study to identify some of the legal and permitting challenges associated with the development of the project.

Figure 3. Potential hybrid system solutions shown against cost and environmental friendliness metrics.

The findings: The "design space" was defined and analyzed through the frame of reference set by the system goals and requirements. The team identified the following insights (Figure 3):

  • Based on wind and solar resource assessments, the expected observatory load profile, and equipment alternatives, the solar/fossil fuel generator hybrid solution will be more reliable, cost-efficient, and environmentally friendly than a wind/fossil fuel generator hybrid solution.
  • The size and number of the fossil fuel generators are the design variables that have the most impact on the current configuration’s environmental friendliness and cost efficiency metrics.

Understanding the stakeholders’ needs and constraints allowed the team to finally arrive at five potential solutions based on hybrid systems. In addition, the team evaluated the option of developing a transmission line to connect the observatory complex to the grid. The alternatives can power Paranal’s energy demand with the E-ELT included. A summary of the evaluation is presented in Figure 4. It was found that the cost of the transmission is comparable to the cost of developing hybrid-isolated system solutions in the region.

Figure 4. Evaluation of cases against defined requirements.

The results: By synthesizing the key stakeholders’ constraints and perceptions of how the energy system should create value for the observatory—as well as visiting Paranal to observe the system and the operators at work—inodú facilitated a joint fact-finding process that allowed the Chilean government and ESO to systematically evaluate different alternatives for providing energy to the Paranal Observatory and the future E-ELT.

Inodú found that developing a high-voltage transmission line to Chile’s Central Interconnected System is comparable in cost to developing a highly reliable hybrid isolated system. The development of a transmission line would elegantly satisfy the primary system goal, which is to facilitate astronomic observation in a more reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly manner.

Special thanks: We would like to thank Marcel Silva from the Chilean Energy Ministry and Roberto Tamai from the European Southern Observatory for their support of this project.

Learn more about inodú

About the authors

Jorge Moreno
SDM alumnus Jorge Moreno, an inodú cofounder, has extensive experience in the energy industry in the United States and Latin America. He holds a master’s degree in engineering and management from MIT and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Donny Holaschutz
SDM alumnus Donny Holaschutz, also an inodú cofounder, is a seasoned entrepreneur with experience in both for- and not-for-profit ventures related to clean and sustainable technology. He holds a master’s degree in engineering and management from MIT and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.


1The E-ELT will have a 39-meter mirror, making it the biggest telescope in the world to observe in the visible and the near-infrared spectra. The total cost of the E-ELT is €1,083 million, spread over 10 years.