The Spanish wind energy sector warns: either the processing pace speeds up or we will not reach the targets set for 2030. The association disagrees with the environmental fee imposed in some Autonomous Communities, a criterion that instead of boosting the sector, hinders it even more. Capital speaks with the Asociación Empresarial Eólica (AEE), which represents more than 90% of the sector in Spain with more than 200 associated companies, and with Siemens Gamesa, one of the main companies in the business.
The Quijote mills glimpsed the Spanish wind potential centuries ago. Our country is the fifth for wind energy installed in the world and the second in the European ranking (2.3 GW, all terrestrial parks), only behind the United Kingdom (2.4 GW, marine and terrestrial). In terms of generation capacity, wind is, according to PREPA, the first renewable technology.
“Having been a pioneer in the development of wind energy, together with Denmark and Germany, Spain is in a privileged situation compared to other industrialized countries that did not bet on this technology at the same level,” explains Heikki Willstedt, Policy Director Energy and Climate Change of PREPA. In his opinion, the “orderly and progressive” momentum made us one of the few countries that exports wind energy to the rest of the world. As Enrique Pedrosa, general manager of Siemens Gamesa in Spain, points out, it is not surprising that different multinational companies in the sector set up their headquarters in our country.
The renewable sector imports “because of the few non-renewable energy resources that Spain has. Very little coal, it has no gas, it has no oil… ”, contextualizes Willstedt. That this technology, developed in the last 20 years, is providing around 20-21% of all electricity consumed is one of the best news in energy-sustainable terms since the beginning of the century. “Here, the good thing we have is the complementarity of all renewable energies,” adds Willstedt.
Reducing energy dependence from abroad is not the main objective of current policies, but will be one of the consequences of the elimination of CO2 emissions. Achieving it means another very good news for Spain: “Every year we spend between 30,000 and 50,000 million euros in buying fossil fuels, an amount that, instead of going to those purchases, will stay in the country and will be invested in creating wealth in our country. territory”. Although Willstedt thinks that we are already in the right direction.
Wind self-consumption, although it is a much less exploited possibility, also exists. These are mini-windmills that can be placed in a house, in a building or in industrial estates. As in photovoltaics, there are aids and forms of crowdfunding, projects that distribute energy among their participants. Although it is not so advanced, the Galician case stands out, with “small singular parks” (less than 6 MW) where public participation is key: the municipalities have 30-40%.
“We are positioned, but we are not the ones who invest the most.” Putting a wind farm in Spain is probably the cheapest in Europe. We have industry and we do not have to pay for transport, a “very complicated” logistics, so savings are important. Furthermore, “Spanish labor, even though it is highly qualified, is much cheaper than, for example, the German one,” PREPA explains. At this point, that investment is not as high as in Germany does not necessarily mean less is done. If we have to reach 50 GW of installed power in 2030, the investment is not enough: “we should increase the pace by 50% more”, according to Willstedt.
“Wind power and photovoltaics are called to be the main protagonists between now and 2050 for the total decarbonisation of the Spanish economy.” According to the Climate Change Law, all energy will have to come from renewable sources or nuclear energy -which does not emit CO2-, although Willstedt does not believe that this is the case: “the current plants will already be out of their optimum in the technical sense ”. In the legal framework, the need to streamline the process is PREPA’s main complaint. The association warns: at this rate, we will not reach the objectives.
“To carry out a project, you need between five and seven years. It is a long time … Too long when compared to the objectives set for 2030 and 2050. The installed wind power that we had in Spain in 2018 … we have to double it by 2030 ”.
According to Pedrosa, the Law is a basic element for the energy transition and reflects the Government’s commitment to renewable energy. The recovery funds for the ecological transition – 39% of the total – will contribute to achieving the objectives, which establish, as Willstedt anticipated, that Spain should have 50 GW of installed wind energy by 2030, almost double the 27 GW that there are currently, according to Siemens Gamesa.
If fulfilled, the ambitious objectives of this Law will place Spain at the forefront of Europe in terms of green energy. The development of the sector will also be noticed throughout the value chain; Siemens Gamesa believes that it will be a “significant boost for our suppliers throughout Spain”.
Differences between the Autonomous Communities
Different winds converge in our orography: Atlantic, Mediterranean, the area of ??Castilla-La Mancha, the Ebro valley … “Spain is richer in wind than part of Europe thinks.” Willstedt highlights the advantages over the rest of the continent for the development of wind power. But, does the geometeorological difference influence the legislation? Willstedt explains that no: to squeeze the wind potential in each place, “the ideal is to regulate in the most homogeneous way possible, that does not generate special requirements in each of the sites that generate imbalances in the economic part of the development of the plants” . The environmental regulation in Ciudad Real or in Cádiz, in principle, is the same, but when promoting projects and trying to obtain permits, each site is treated in a particular way. That, for reasons of environmental “convenience”, a project is not allowed is a situation that has already occurred. The administration throws away a lot of projects a year due to lack of viability: “it’s not a drama. Everyone would like to see it approved, but that’s the regulatory game, ”adds the PREPA spokesperson.
Is the development of wind power balanced in all communities? According to Willstedt, the “new renewables” are more distributed throughout the Spanish geography. New technological developments, such as the growth in height of wind turbines (by means of longer blades that capture weaker winds and at higher altitudes) stabilize possible meteorological differences: “It is no longer necessary to take the wind turbines to areas with a lot of wind or to areas that they are very in height ”. Much more electricity can be generated in previously uninteresting sites, so we no longer need to accumulate all the wind farms in the same place.
The panorama opens the door to new areas: a clear example is the Extremadura wind farm, which was installed in 2019 thanks to subsidies: “now it works like a shot, it no longer needs incentives.” Another particular case is the Canarian archipelago, where “thanks to the wind it was possible to make tomatoes”, explains Willstedt. Although there is a lot of wind, drinking water is scarce, so wind power generates electricity for desalination plants, a situation that lowers the cost of drinking water and facilitates the maintenance of orchards and greenhouses.
In this context, PREPA points out the different legislation among the 17 Autonomous Communities. While some autonomies put obstacles, others promote the sector. The case of Galicia or Castilla y León, which impose the “environmental fee” on wind power – a parameter never imposed on coal, for example – has nothing to do with the case of Aragon, which has exploited the opportunity.