Enel’s primary substations set for ‘sustainable’ facelift

Enel’s primary substations set for ‘sustainable’ facelift
Image: Enel Grids

Chilean architecture company Umwelt’s ‘New Energies’ project has been selected as the winner in the design challenge for new primary substations from 2025 on.

While the full visual design has not yet been made public, ‘New Energies’ is described as a multi-functional system aimed to make the most of the natural elements – sun, light, wind and rain – and combining energy efficiency with an optimal balance between the investments and the economic, environmental and social benefits.

In this way it is intended to be versatile and to meet the need to modernise the electrical infrastructure with a sustainable footprint throughout its lifecycle.

Features include rooftop solar panels, a porous floor that lets in rainwater and prevents the formation of heat islands and a wave fence with a modular grid design that lets in light and wind.

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In addition, plants will be grown all around the substation with the adoption of the Miyawaki method, which involves the dense planting of fast growing smaller native species under taller trees.

The primary goal of the challenge was to create a sustainable modular architecture for primary substations, with a high level of versatility and replicability and optimisation of the space.

A key goal was that the infrastructure needs to blend in with the environment, with an innovative design combining safety with flexibility and with improved visual, functional and spatial impact.

The challenge attracted 36 entries from engineers, academia, designers and architecture and construction companies from 16 countries, and was adjudged by a similarly multi-disciplinary panel.

Other proposals that were awarded special prizes and will be implemented in existing facilities were from the Rome-based architecture practice NEXT Urban Solutions in collaboration with the visual artist Filippo Riniolo, by architects Andrea Bautista and Jessica García Huachez and from the Milan design practice Vittorio Grassi Architects.

Enel states that the primary substation design challenge forms part of a larger process that Enel Grids has set in motion aimed at modernising and redesigning the key elements of the distribution networks.

Earlier redesigns have focussed on the design and structure of meters, street cabinets, secondary substations and power line supports and the next step is on the larger and more complex infrastructure.

The approximately 30 different challenges launched over the last two years have led to hundreds of proposals based on more circular practices “to increase grid automation and digitalisation, deliver state-of-the-art solutions that ensure safety and productivity in field operations and reduce the environmental and economic impact of building new facilities, with a special focus on biodiversity and harmonious integration with the local environment and thereby eliminate the carbon footprint of the grids”, the company states.