In Spain, wind energy is carried by tailwinds

Wind turbines in Villar de los Navarros, Zaragoza region, April 5, 2022 (CESAR MANSO/AFP)

An influx of investment and an abundance of projects: Spain has a tailwind for wind power, which became the country’s leading source of electricity last year. An asset at a time when the war in Ukraine has revived the debate about energy independence from the EU.

“Here we are on fertile ground,” assures Joaquín García Latorre, project manager at Enel Green Power España, pointing to the giant masts erected on the heights of Villar de los Navarros, the village of a hundred souls in the Zaragoza region (northeast). .

The Spanish-Italian group chose this site, well protected from the wind, to build one of the largest wind farms in the country: the Tico Wind Park, which includes 43 turbines with a total capacity of 180 megawatt hours (MWh).

“This park entered its production phase in November” and will be fully operational “within a month,” explains Joaquín Garcia Latorre, as workers are busy around these huge machines, culminating at a height of more than a hundred meters.

The village of Villar de los Navarros in the Zaragoza region, April 5, 2022
The village of Villar de los Navarros in the Zaragoza region on April 5, 2022. (CESAR MANSO/AFP)

“Here blows from 2500 to 3000 hours of wind a year. This means that we will be able to produce almost 471 gigawatt-hours (GWh) per year”, which is “equivalent to the consumption of 148,000 households,” adds the Enel manager.

From Galicia to the Basque Country through Andalusia, the number of projects of this type has increased in a few years in Spain, the second country in Europe after Germany and the fifth country in the world in terms of installed wind energy.

Wind power became the country’s top source of electricity last year, with 23% versus 21% for nuclear and 17% for gas, according to the manager of the Spanish electricity grid.

“Wind energy benefits from a favorable situation”, even if there are still “brakes” in its development, very dependent on auctions organized by the government, Judge Francisco Valverde Sanchez, specialist in this sector at Menta Energia.

After a boom in the early 2000s thanks to government bailouts, the sector came to a sudden halt in 2013 after subsidies ended at the height of the economic crisis.

It has risen again since then: Spain’s installed capacity, which hosts a total of 1,265 wind farms, has increased from 23.4 gigawatts in 2018 to 28.1 gigawatts in 2021, according to the Spanish Association of Wind Companies (AEE).

“Energy Attic”

Installation of a wind turbine at the heights of Villar de los Navarros, April 5, 2022
Wind turbine installation at the heights of Villar de los Navarros, April 5, 2022 (CESAR MANSO/AFP)

Plenty of sparsely populated areas, a favorable legal framework, an advanced industrial network… “Spain is currently one of the most interesting markets for investors,” emphasizes Juan Virgilio Marquez, CEO of AEE.

A third world exporter of air generators, the country has several renewable energy heavyweights such as Iberdrola or Naturgy. “That explains the sector’s dynamism” and the “appetite” it generates, Mr. Marquez insists.

An appetite that goes beyond just energy players: In November, Spanish multibillionaire Amancio Ortega, the founder of Zara, invested 245 million euros in a park in the northeast of the country.

Will this momentum continue? In 2020, Madrid committed to increase the share of renewable energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) in electricity to 74% by 2030, up from 47% at present. This results in the commissioning of 22 gigawatts in eight years.

To achieve this goal, the government is counting on the development of offshore wind power, which is in its infancy but for which Spain has great potential with its thousands of kilometers of coastline.

“This is an ambitious goal,” which includes “further accelerating the deployment” of the sector, says Francisco Valverde Sanchez. This can be done only, according to him, under the condition of reducing the “bureaucracy”, which delays many cases.

Reflection of a wind turbine at a water intake in Villar de los Navarros on April 5, 2022.
The reflection of a windmill on a pond in Villar de los Navarros on April 5, 2022. (CESAR MANSO/AFP)

According to the AEE, about 600 projects are currently under consideration by public services. As part of its economic response plan for the war in Ukraine, Madrid promised to speed up the procedure for projects under 75 MW.

Spain “has sufficient resources to become the first European country to produce and export renewable energy”, which is necessary for the “energy independence” of the EU, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday.

A message sent across the entire sector since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Spain has great wind potential (…) It could become the energy granary of Europe,” sums up Juan Virgilio Marquez.

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