Spain leads the way on wind power

Thursday, April 12, 2007

By late March, Spain's wind power generation was contributing 27% of the country's total daily power demands, surpassing supplies by nuclear and coal. This marks a new record for the contribution of wind-generated power to Spain's electricity grid.

Spain's wind power capacity, at 11,615 megawatts (MW), is the second highest in the world. Half the country's wind farm fleet has been constructed from older technology, making it less efficient than it could be. Spain is planning to increase installed wind capacity to 20,000 MW by 2010 and is adding 2000 MW this year.

Despite formidable political barriers, wind power has earned its place as a mainstream energy source. The Global Wind Energy Council reported a record boom in the wind energy markets across 70 countries for 2006.

Spain's electricity grid is approximately the same size as Australia's National Electricity Market grid, making it a useful model for comparison. Given Spain's poor wind and solar energy resources compared to Australia's, the former's success with wind power is an example for Australia to follow.

Geographically, Australia is 15 times the size of Spain, but has half its population. With around 1/30th of Spain's population density, Australia has a phenomenal capacity for wind generation.

The Melbourne-based climate activist group Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) has been developing models for a wholesale refit of the Australian grid with renewable energy. BZE is heartened by Spain's example because it cuts across the arguments by coal and nuclear lobbyists that renewable energy, such as wind, is unreliable and can only provide a small amount of a country's electricity needs.

BZE's Renewable Stationary Energy proposal shows that Victoria could generate 12,000 MW of wind power using just 1% of land area. This estimate is based on available commercial technologies but, to make it operational, would require a substantial change in political outlook.

BZE believes Victoria has an opportunity to move its energy supplies to near 100% wind power, boosted by gas and hydro in peak periods. Gas and hydro boosts would eventually be replaced by solar thermal technologies, which would result in 100% of Victoria's energy being sourced entirely from renewables.

Developments worldwide show that the global wind energy industry is competitive in big energy markets despite being denied the excessive subsidies that fossil-fuel industries and other non-renewables currently enjoy.

Spain aspires to be sourcing 30% of its electricity from renewables by 2010, half of which is to be supplied by wind power, according to a December 14, 2005, MIT Technology Review article. Autonomous regions, including Navarra, aim to source 100% of their energy requirements from renewables by 2010.

With the introduction of state-based renewable energy targets, Australia could now plan a national energy transition to 100% renewables. Spain has demonstrated that wind power can supply a significant proportion of its required energy. BZE believes that Australia's wind power production could take off with new wind generation technologies and sophisticated turbine models, and the necessary political will.

[Matthew Wright is an activist with Beyond Zero Emissions.
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