Uruguay has developed its hydroelectric resources to the full and is considering wind power to boost its power supplies. Last Dec, the government invited developers to submit proposals for a 150 MW wind power auction. National power company Usinas y Transmisiones del Estado has revealed plans to develop 200MW of wind farms, which could be operational by 2015.
One month later, three developers, including Spain’s Abengoa, were awarded contracts to sell wind power at rates of US$81.15-86.26.MWh, 40% below the rate charged at fuel oil and diesel oil thermal plants, according to Mendez. Such wind farm plants produced 39% of the country’s power, according to the most recent data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), a Paris-based intergovernmental research group.
Mendez said the country must be careful not to install too much capacity and burden the power grid with an excess of wind energy. On a blustery summer night, for example, he said the planned 500 megawatts of wind farms may, at peak moments, produce as much as 60% of the country’s electricity. When demand is low this surging supply may be a problem. "Wind generation is not controllable, you get what you’re given" he said.
Uruguay wants to wean itself off oil completely by 2013 by converting its existing thermoelectric power plants to liquefied natural gas and developing its renewable energy resources, Mendez said. "The problem is we are dependent on the Nino-Nina climate pattern" – a warming and cooling of the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean every five to eight years that can effect rainfall and our hydroelectric capacity, he said.
Two years ago there were weeks when the country only had enough water in its reservoirs to operate 3% of its 1.6 gigawatts of hydroelectric plants, he said. And there is little chance to expand Uruguay’s hydroelectricity resources. "We’ve exhausted all our main rivers," he said. "There’s no room for anything larger than 10 megawatts" said Mendez.