Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spain's Renewable Energy

On a recent trip to Spain I was struck by the large number of three things that I saw frequently. Although the rat tail/mullet hybrid hair cuts and popular facial piercings also caught my attention, I am referring to wind turbines, solar panels, and greenhouses. According to the Spanish Wind Energy Association, Spain has an installed capacity of 16.7 GW of wind power.[1] Meanwhile, Texas - the leader in American wind power, which is about 20% larger than Spain in land area, has only installed about 4.3 GW of wind power capacity according to the Texas Comptroller's 2008 Energy Report. The same report also states that Texas contributes about 25% of the 16.6 GW of installed wind capacity in the United States.[2] Therefore Spain and the United States produce about the same amount of wind power despite the United States being 20 times larger. Germany tops the world's wind power list, with an installed capacity of about 22.3 GW of power according to the Global Wind Energy Council.[3]

In addition to a large number of wind turbines, I also noticed several large solar panel "farms". Although Spain only produces about 1.5 GW of solar power currently[4], this is still a greater amount on a land area basis than is produced in the United States[5].

Finally, the most unexpected sighting in Spain (again, not including some of the hair styles) was the vast number of greenhouses that covered the southern coast. It appeared that the greenhouses were being used to grow crops, but perhaps they could be converted or expanded to culture algae (perhaps even marine species) in the future in a semi-closed environment for the production of fuels and chemicals. Many researchers have claimed that large scale production of algae in closed environments is unfeasible due to the high capital cost of installing the greenhouses. While this may still be true, the large number of greenhouses in southern Spain suggests that at high enough prices, indoor cultures can be economical, and more productive than outdoor crops.

As a final comment, I noticed that many of the wind turbines, solar panel farms, and greenhouses were signifcant eye sores to the beautiful surroundings that they were placed in (including the Sierra Nevada mountains and Meditteranean coast shown above). I thought it was interesting that Spain placed a greater priority on renewable energy (which has a goal of producing 30% of it's electricity from renewable sources by 2010) than they did on preserving the aesthetic appeal of their national landscape (and potentially their tourism industry). The United States has already experienced the conflict between renewable energy and aesthetic landscape in the past, and it will be interesting to see which one secures a higher place in our country's priority list in the future.

*All photos taken by Colin Beal

[1] - Spanish Wind Energy Association, aeeolica.es/contenidos.php?c_pub=101, 2009
[2] - Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, The Energy Report, May 2008, Available online at seco.cpa.state.tx.us/re_wind.htm
[3] - Global Wind Energy Concil, Global Wind 2007 Report, Available online at gwec.net/index.php?id=90
[4] - Whelan, Carolyn, Is the Sun Setting on Solar Power in Spain, Scientific America, October 20 2008. Available online at sciam.com/article.cfm?id=is-the-sun-setting-on-solar-power-in-spain
[5] - Wikipedia, Solar Power in the United States, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_the_United_States


rossen said...

I believe that Spain is trying to meet the mandated renewable energy quota set by the European Union and that is why you saw all these wind turbines and solar panels.


The 20-20-20 mandate has every member of the European Union installing wind whether they have the appropriate wind resources or not. The mandate states that that each member of the union should reduce greenhouse gases by 20%, increase its use of renewable energy by 20% and achieve 20% better energy efficiency by 2020.

I would rather see the mandate be a cumulative percentage (60%) instead the of the individual 20-20-20 percentiles. For example, if you were to cut your greenhouse gases by 40% and achieve 20% better efficiency, then you would have met the 60% requirements set by the mandate, instead of trying to bring in renewable energy, when you don't have the resources available. Just a thought....

koh said...

That's really interesting that Spain is third in the world for wind power production. I've always heard that the North Sea was a great source for wind power but Spain is pretty far away.

I looked up a map of wind farms in Spain and found that most of them are located on the north end of the country (http://www.thewindpower.net/full-screen-map-3-spain.php). Maybe there's some residual from the famous North Sea winds? It's also interesting that a lot of them are inland. I'm assuming you were primarily on the southern coast, which makes me wonder how much more you would've seen on the other end of the country.

Ideamotor said...

20-20-20 huh. I'm in favor of regulation in its spirit, but that's just sad.