Sunday, April 3, 2011

Solar Spain

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed one of the directors of an agency of the government of Navarra, a Spanish province. Navarra produced more than 80% of its electricity from renewable energy sources in 2009. Navarra is in the northern part of Spain, and produces most of its energy from wind. But the south of Spain also produces a lot of wind energy. Many of the wind farms in Spain are located in olive groves (there are a LOT of olive orchards in southern Spain). I love the way these turbines rise above the olive trees here.

As big as the turbines are, they leave plenty of room for the olive trees to grow. I imagine that the owners of the olive orchards appreciate the extra income they earn from leasing their lands for the wind turbines.

Perhaps more striking than the wind turbines were the large numbers of solar installations I saw in southern Spain. Many farms had large photovoltaic arrays sitting in part of the fields.

Photovoltaic sheets are probably the most common type of solar energy people think of when they think of solar energy. They produce electricity directly from the sun and have a number of important uses. For example, the sheets can be used as roofing tiles and are very useful for small-scale electricity production. But photovoltaic sheets are quite expensive and not ideal for large-scale electricity production. However, other types of solar systems are.

In fact, Spain recently made headlines by building the world’s largest concentrated solar power generator, called PS10.

I prefer to think of it as a power-generating Barad-dur, but in a good way

Spain has also invested in parabolic trough solar power installations-

Both types of solar stations use solar energy to boil water, which produces steam, which turns turbines that generate electricity. These concentrated systems act quite similarly to coal or nuclear stations, in that they ultimately boil water to produce electricity. The main difference, of course, is that the solar stations rely on the sun for the heating source and, compared to coal, don’t emit millions of tons of carbon dioxide and thousands of pounds of other harmful pollutants every year. A lot of people continue to insist that renewable energy cannot produce large amounts of electricity, but these systems demonstrate otherwise.

Other parts of the world are investing in solar energy, of course, but I was quite impressed with the wide degree of acceptance the Spanish people have shown overall to investment in renewables. No one I spoke to in Spain challenged the legitimacy of these investments. While some of them identified hurdles to reliance on renewables (most notably, renewable energy sources often produce electricity intermittently, which is a problem with the current systems available for electricity storage), no one suggested that Spain should abandon its efforts to develop renewable energy. I’m sure this is partly because Spain has no other energy resources available domestically, but I also think it’s partly due to the broader belief that Spain will benefit in the long term from the investments it makes in renewable energy now.

1 comment:

  1. Melissa - I'm really enjoying your blog! This one grabbed me, as I'm working with a couple other L&C/PEAC alumni on a renewables lawsuit. Interestingly, we're fighting AGAINST a wind project because of poor NEPA review regarding siting of the 75-turbine array within 4 miles of an ecologically significant bat cave. Have you talked with any of the Spanish about wildlife impacts from renewable energy projects?
    Chris Mixson