Spain: Wind energy growth and limits
Spain, has now 7,049 MW installed wind power, world second to Germany, with 15,600 MW and above USA with 6,371 MW. The number of turbines exceeds of 10,000 and are now visually perceptible from everywhere in Spain (Northwestern, Canary Islands, Southern Spain, in the Gibraltar Strait, in the hills, north of Madrid, or in the Pyrenees).
They are very visible, because always occupy the "loins" of the hills or mountain passes, or the slopes from valleys to plateaus, like in La Mancha, where the biggest fields are now taking exactly the same place than the mills Don Quixote attacked with his spear several centuries ago.
The incentives of the Spanish Government for wind energy, are as follows:
For onshore and offshore fields:
90% of the tariff for the first 15 years and 80% from then onwards.
The wind industry is planning to grow up to 20 to 30,000 MW installed power and they are seeking for offshore platforms, a possible indication that the best fields are reaching a peak in the country.
The Association of Wind Energy Producers are now claiming that the main distributors to which they are connected, are sometimes putting them off-grid, thus eroding their forecasted income, budgets and recovery plans, according to some official sources.
The Royal Decree on this matter does not clearly specify the conditions, but in the rights of the producers under special regime states:
"To transfer to the system, through the power utility or distributor its production or surplus of electric energy, whenever the grid technically allows it"
Based on that, the power utilities are proceeding to put off-grid some wind farms for instance, during the nights on certain Sundays, when consumption is in the deepest valley and when the farms exceed some 12-17% of the total supplied power, according to an official source. Power utilities, even being part of the wind business, are starting to feel the limits of this erratic flows into a grid that needs stability, when percentages of wind energy grow on total.
The Greenpeace director for Spain has promoted the wind energy, in a public recent debate in TV, comparing the present installed wind power with the 180 MW nuclear power plant of Zorita. However, he missed to observe that the load factor of the wind power makes the whole and impressive 7GW of installed wind power, equivalent to not more than 1.5 GW plants of nuclear coal or combined cycle plants.
The Spanish nuclear power installed power is about 7.9 GW which represented the 23% of the total electricity supplied in 2003. The Government now in power, promised in the past elections that they will close down the nuclear power plants within 20 years from now. Should the wind generators have to cover the nuclear power plants, considering the different load factors, the present wind farms will have to multiply close to 6 times, probably more.
Besides, and if economic growth continues at the path of the last decade, in 20 more years, Spain will be consuming a 75% more than now, thus forcing the wind farms to multiply tenfold.
This opens the debate on several aspects:
· Ten times more wind farms in the country will certainly have a visual and environmental impact ten times higher than today, which is already considerable.
· The availability of wind fields of higher classes will, most likely, had passed the peak by then, in this 200,000 square miles or 500,000 square Km. country.
· It is not yet clear how that exponential growth will affect general wind flows or the evolution of the natural wind streams
· Or even the possible interferences, beyond the classic distances of 1.5 times between adjacent turbines and 5 times between ranks , if fields multiply at this level.
· Offshores are also creating problems with fishermen a very powerful industry in Spain and with the international navigation channels, specially in the Gibraltar Strait and the Gulf of Cadiz, where most prospects are have initially been drafted.
· The percentage of 23% is sensibly higher than the one forcing today to the power utilities to put off-the-grid the wind farms to avoid the network to collapse due to instability.
· But still Spain will have only 23% of its electricity coming from wind power.
· It is doubtful how the wind farms, so much developed in technology today, will evolve, as a stand alone business, if the Spanish Government eliminates the present substantial subsidies.