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ENERGY-SPAIN: Windfall for the Grid

Tito Drago

MADRID, Nov 9 2009 (IPS) - Wind energy notched up a new record in Spain on Sunday, when it generated 53 percent of total electricity demand nationwide for part of the day, according to official figures announced Monday.

Powering the grid at up to 10,170 megawatts, wind turbines supplied over half the country’s demand for five-and-a-half hours, a timespan similar to windpower output on Nov. 4 and 5, when for five hours each day they provided over 40 percent of demand.

José Donoso, head of the Spanish Wind Energy Association, told journalists that in 2004 people said that wind energy would never provide more than 14 percent of electricity demand, but in the light of this event, he expects that by 2020 wind power could produce around 40,000 megawatts, or nearly four times Sunday’s output.

Electricity demand fluctuates according to whether it is daytime or night, a weekday or a weekend, and on a previous occasion in November 2008, a surge of wind power early on a Sunday caused oversupply and the electricity grid had to turn wind turbines off.

However this time the system was able to save energy for a time of greater demand, by exporting more electricity and pumping water into reversible reservoirs, to be used to generate electricity via water turbines later when demand rose.

Over the first five days of November, wind energy was the lead source of electricity generation, producing over 913,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh), more than the 908,000 GWh from combined cycle gas turbines, or the nearly 594,000 GWh from nuclear power plants. Exporting surplus energy from one country to another is one way of coping with temporary over- or under-supply, but Spain lags behind on this. Denmark is a good example, as it is able to export excess electricity to neighbouring Germany, and import it to make up shortfalls.

Spain, in contrast, has cross-border power lines to France, which has higher demand, but these can carry only three percent of Spain’s installed capacity. It also has two undersea power cables linking it to Morocco, and one very low capacity overland cable to Portugal.

For years, Spain has planned to increase its interconnection with France by 2014, but work has not yet begun, due to opposition by environmental organisations because of potential ecological damage.

Luis Atienza, the head of Red Eléctrica de España (REE), the company that operates power transmission and the electricity grid in Spain, said: “People can see that without railway lines there can be no high-speed trains, but they don’t see that without power lines there can be no renewable energy.

“Those cables they oppose are the lesser evil, and the way to fulfil our environmental commitments and our energy policy,” he said.

In Castilla y León, one of Spain’s 17 provinces, preparations are in hand to celebrate Wind Energy Day on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

This province is in the forefront of wind energy production in Spain, followed by Castilla-La Mancha and Galicia. Castilly y León currently has 161 wind farms, and has invested more than five billion euros (7.5 billion dollars) to instal them.

Wednesday’s event, under the motto “Towards a New Energy Model,” will include debates and workshops to analyse the current situation of wind energy, in the province and in Spain as a whole. The wind energy sector in Castilla y León comprises 450 companies, employing 5,000 workers.

Spanish government sources confirmed that they will roll out a plan to develop more renewable energy projects, including 2,000 megawatts of solar energy and between 3,000 and 4,000 megawatts of wind energy.

Meanwhile, it transpired that the Ministry of Industry will continue subsidies for some of the applications presented to fund these installations, but a bill is being drawn up to reduce subsidies from 2010. Ministry sources consulted by IPS would neither confirm nor deny the reports.

Galicia is a trail-blazing province in terms of renewable energy, with 64 percent of the energy it consumes coming from renewable sources.

The provincial government headed by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, of the centre-right People’s Party, approved a budget of 26 million euros (about 40 million dollars) to achieve its target of 95 percent of the electricity consumed in Galicia being derived from clean energy sources by 2015. The money will subsidise up to 40 percent of the cost of new infrastructure.

Spain is also promoting clean energy production in other countries, particularly Venezuela, a major oil producer.

Spanish companies have been contracted to instal four wind farms in Venezuela, located in La Guajira, Isla de Coche, Isla Margarita and Chacopata and representing an investment of 90 million euros (135 million dollars).

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