Solar Energy: Spain takes lead with government commitment, enforces building code, erects more solar power plants
As researchers continue to explore new ways to promote and improve solar power, Spain forges ahead with plans to build concentrating solar power plants, establishing the country and Spanish companies as world leaders in the emerging field. At the same time, the number of installed photovoltaic systems is growing exponentially, and researchers continue to explore new ways to promote and improve solar power. This is the seventh in an eight-part series highlighting new technologies in Spain and is produced by Technology Review, Inc.’s custom-publishing division in partnership with the Trade Commission of Spain.
From the road to the Solúcar solar plant outside Seville, drivers can see what appear to be glowing white rays emanating from a tower, piercing the dry air, and alighting upon the upturned faces of the tilted mirror panels below. Appearances, though, are deceiving: those upturned mirrors are actually tracking the sun and radiating its power onto a blindingly white square at the top of the tower, creating the equivalent of the power of 600 suns, which is used to vaporize water into steam to power a turbine. This tower plant uses concentrated solar technology – otherwise known as solar thermal power – with a central receiver. It’s the first commercial central receiver system in the world.
Spanish companies and research centers are taking the lead in the recent revival of concentrated solar power, as expanses of mirrors are being assembled around the country for concentrated solar plants. At the same time, Spanish companies are also investing in huge photovoltaic fields, as companies dramatically increase production of PV panels and investigate the next generation of PV. Spain is already fourth in the world in its use of solar power, and second in Europe behind Germany, with more than 120 MW in about 8300 installations of PV. Within only the past ten years, the number of companies working in solar energy has leapt from a couple dozen to a few hundred.
Southern Spain, a region known the world over for its abundant sun and scarce rain, provides an ideal landscape for solar thermal power. The tower outside Seville, built and operated by Solúcar, an Abengoa company, is the first of a number of solar thermal plants and will provide about 10 MW of power. The company SENER is completing Andasol 1, the first parabolic trough plant in Europe, a 50 MW system outside Granada that will begin operation in the summer of 2008.
Acciona Solar, the solar energy arm of Acciona Energía, as with the other major companies involved in this field, has seen phenomenal growth rates. The company’s income exploded from about a half million Euros to more than 96 million Euros in only eight years.
Last December the company connected the Monte Alto Solar Field to the grid, the largest installation of its kind in Spain, and one of the largest in the world. It consists of a field of standard PV panels on trackers (which leads to 30 percent greater efficiency), spread out over a long disused agricultural field in the southern part of the state of Navarra, about an hour south of Pamplona.
This is the latest in these fields, known as ‘huertas,’ or gardens, in Spanish. The 9.5 MW facility at Milagro actually has more than 750 owners, investors, from across Spain, each of whom owns one or two of the panels and trackers and receives payments from the electric utility.
Most Spaniards live in apartment buildings and share rooftops, so the options for investing in solar power are limited. “This way they can have the same opportunities as the rest of the world even if they don’t have their own roof,” says Miguel Arrarás, general director of Acciona Solar. There are ten such fields in Spain, though Milagro is the largest so far, and three more about to enter construction phase.
The region of Navarra (where Milagro is located), with local government support, has become a veritable center of renewable energy, with wind turbines arching over the rolling hills and solar fields stretching across open spaces. The region has more than twenty times the watt peak of PV per inhabitant compared to that of Spain, and nearly double that of Germany, world solar leader. This commitment has led to 70% of Navarra’s electricity generated from wind and solar alone.
Because of this, Navarra – and Acciona’s solar fields – have become a perfect site to evaluate the entire system. “We’re testing 30 different kinds of panels,” says Arrarás. “We also have data on the effects of shadows, fog, everything. We have an agreement with two universities just to analyze this data.” He continues, “This is also the perfect place to evaluate what the effect is on the entire grid when, say, there are clouds, because of the high concentration of solar power here.”
The company’s operations are housed in a zero-emissions building on the outskirts of Pamplona. The building’s design incorporates techniques that reduce energy needs by 52 percent from a typical building, such as natural light and carefully placed shading. The remaining energy is produced with PV cells, solar water heating, and finally a small amount of biodiesel. The investments will pay off in ten years, according to Arrarás. Due to the company’s experience, Acciona Solar is also researching ways to improve and promote these high performance buildings.
Acciona is poised to begin construction on a PV solar field in Portugal that will comprise nearly 50 MW – five times the size of Milagro.
The Spanish government continues to promote the investment and expansion of both photovoltaic and solar thermal power in the country, with a goal of 400 MW installed power for PV and 500 MW for solar by 2010. This is still only a fraction of the country’s total power use and total renewable production.
The government, however, is committed to advancing the sector. The new building code of 2006 requires increased energy efficiency and an obligation to meet a significant part of the hot water demand with passive solar heating, and the Plan of Renewable Energies sets lofty goals of 5 million square feet of solar collectors by 2010. They new Royal Decree approved in May 2007 improves the feed-in tariffs for both solar thermal and PV facilities. Some experts believe that these developments could lead Spain to become the second largest PV market in the world in 2007. Spanish companies and research institutions plan to continue to be at the forefront of the growing global field.
Says Javier Anta, president of the Spanish Photovoltaic Industry Association, “The solar industry will be a major part of the government’s goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. Despite the fact that solar is only a small percentage of renewable power, it’s grown more than 100 percent a year in the past few years,” and in fact the sector grew 200 percent in 2006. Continues Anta, “We’re facing a grand challenge: consolidating that which we’ve achieved so far, setting the framework for future development, and creating a sector that makes our country proud.
Photos courtesy of Union Fenosa, Abengoa, Acciona Energia, Phönix SonnenStrom AG, and Technology Review
- PG&E to put solar panels in orbit to capture sun's rays 24/7 & wirelessly beam energy down to Earth by 2016
- Breakthrough: MIT researchers turn windows into solar panels, 10 times more effective solar power may be available in 3 years
- Solar powered 1st nonstop 26hr night flight, longest distance, highest altitude: Swiss Solar Impulse marks Solar Aviation Era
- Futurist reality. Solar and Wind taking over power grid much sooner than you think. Home is sweeter and warmer with solar
- World largest solar bridge: 4400 panels end-to-end 1886-Victorian bridge on Thames w/ rail station 900000kwh of electricity/yr
Browse other gifts from Zazzle.