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Spain wind power expansion faces technical hurdles

Spain’s ambitious plans to expand wind power as part of its renewable energy drive will bring environmental and economic benefits but faces technical problems, an industry expert said on Thursday.

Spain’s wind parks currently have an installed capacity of some 15,000 megawatts and the government wants to see 20,000 MW in place by 2010 and 30,000 MW by 2030.

Spain’s wind power manufacturers say they can expand capacity to 40,000 MW by 2020.

But national grid operator REE currently limits wind parks to supplying 30 percent of Spain’s energy demand, to protect power network from sudden drops in power if the wind falters.

“The REE limit does imply that there will be downtime for wind parks if we reach our targets for installed capacity,” Carmen Canovas, head of renewable energy development at utility Endesa, told an energy conference in Barcelona.

Canovas said wind parks reduced the cost of electricity by 2 euros ($3.19) per megawatt-hour for every 1,000 MW installed. Wind parks last year saved Spain 50 million metric tons of conventional fuel and prevented the emission of 18 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, she said.

REE had to enforce the 30-percent limit last month when wind turbines set a production record and momentarily met some 28 percent of total demand.

Wind parks have produced up to 24 percent of demand on a given day and fluctuations in output produce wide swings in prompt power prices in the over-the-counter market.

REE has said that plans to expand Spain’s power links with neighboring France will help make it less vulnerable to sudden drops in wind energy. But this has met with protests as the lines would cut across areas of natural beauty in the Pyrenees.

Spain’s interconnection capacity with its neighbors is currently less than five percent of demand, making it one of the most isolated systems in Europe.

REE has also said that plans to upgrade wind turbines will make the generators less vulnerable to sudden drops in power.

Another speaker at the Barcelona conference said Endesa was working on projects to offset swings in output by wind parks by linking them to small hydroelectric plants.

When wind turbines produce more energy than needed, the surplus can be used to pump water from a lower reservoir to a high one. Water is allowed to run downhill to generate hydroelectricity when there is less wind.

The projects are small and have so far been developed in the Canary islands, as their mountainous terrain makes them suitable and the technology could make them self-sufficient in electricity.

(Reporting by Martin Roberts; Editing by Daniel Fineren)


17 April 2008