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Spain: Leading the Renewable Energy Race

Posted on Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 at 10:39 am by Solar Energy USA

Spain has been on a winning streak of late: first Nadal wins Wimbeldon, then Spain wins the World Cup, now Spain has overtaken the US as global solar leader. But Spain isn’t stopping at solar, they currently have wind farms capable of generating more than 40 per cent of Spain’s total wind energy and plan for the entire country to be running of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 [Source: Suite 101].

Solar power has been garnering attention in Spain due to its natural sunny climate. With over 300 sunny days, Spain is setting out to triple its output in the next decade and exceed the EU target of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced that Spain would meet 23 percent of its energy demands and generate 40 percent electricity without emitting CO2 (Spain is currently the 19th highest emitter of CO2). This ambitious goal would increase solar output from 4.7 gigawatts to 13.4 gigawatts [Source: Business Week]. Spain has already become the largest global solar provider in the world, outstripping the US. This is due to the completion of La Florida. The solar farm is located in the western part of Spain (Alvarado, Badjoz), and is a parabolic trough. This method of collecting sunlight reflects light from the parabolic mirror on to a fluid-filled tube. This heated tube creates steam which runs the turbines. To make the most of the sunlight, the mirrors rotate to follow the sun’s movements. The solar farm covers 550,000 square metres and produces 50MW with the potential to grow to 2,500MW [Source: The Guardian].

Of course, Spain is not only relying on solar energy to reach that 23 percent. Wind power is also a major resource in Spain. In 2009, Spain recorded that one of their windfarms was able to produce 11,564 MW, meeting over 50 percent of total energy demand [Source: International Energy Agency]. Spain is currently the third largest producer of wind energy (not too far behind China and the US) producing 20.2 GW and containing more than 400 windfarms and 12,000 turbines. Regions of Spain, like the Navarre, already rely heavily on renewable energy with wind and solar meeting 70 percent of the region’s energy demands. By 2020, Spain hopes to generate 38 GW with 3 GW coming from offshore windfarms. Improvements in meteorological technology has allowed scientists and developers to choose optimum locations for wind farms. When combined with increasing solar and hyro plant efficiency, Spain is geared to boost renewable energy production by 67% [Source: Business Week].

While these goals seem attainable, keeping costs low to consumers may lead to fewer renewable energy companies installing these plants. Earlier this month, Zapatero approved a $1.5 billion government subsidy cut to renewable energy companies in order to reduce the gap between what consumers pay and the wholesale price of power. Unfortunately, these cuts benefit utility companies that do not have investments in renewable technology [Source: Business Week].

While Spain’s record for renewable energy is impressive, the country still suffers from the effects of climate change. Since 2006 Spain has been suffering from droughts and glacial meltings. The drought was made worse by illegal boreholes siphoning off the country’s water supply. In 2006, the WWF discovered 500,000 boreholes, siphoning enough water to satisfy 58 million people. These plots of land were sold on the black market to various businesses, most notably: farms, golf resorts and hotels [Source: Guardian]. The drought has dried up many regions, forcing cities to either severly restrict water usage or shipping it in from other countries [Source: BBC]. Spain may be able to reach the goal of 100 percent renewable energy, but the drought problems will continue until all countries move in this direction