In Argentina there are around 900 wind turbines, which, thanks to the wind, generate 10% of the country’s total electricity consumption or, in other words, the equivalent of supplying more than 2.7 million homes. They are grouped into 57 wind farms that are distributed mostly in Chubut, Buenos Aires, Santa Cruz, La Rioja, Córdoba, Neuquén and Río Negro.
In the last four years, these towers of more than 110 meters high began to proliferate on the side of the routes, a postcard that in Europe has more time, but that in Argentina gained momentum from 2018 with the Renew incentive programs . Now, without State tax benefits, it is the large consumer goods, automotive companies or banks that finance the construction of wind farms, with the aim of making their businesses more sustainable.
LA NACION visited the Los Teros wind farm, owned by YPF Luz, in Azul (Buenos Aires), and climbed to the highest point of one of the wind turbines. The particularity of this park is that it is not inside an oil field: the company entered into a usufruct contract with six field owners, where they installed 45 wind turbines and an electrical substation on an area of 3,610 hectares. Therefore, while the wind generates electricity, the harvesting machines travel between the towers and work on the crops of corn, soybeans and wheat.
To enter a wind turbine, it is necessary to take a safety course and measure the pressure. Those who suffer from acrophobia (fear of heights), of course, are not recommended to climb. Then you have to put on a coverall, boots and equip yourself with a helmet, glasses and safety harnesses. The wind turbine must be turned off for the ascent, which begins with the entrance through a metal staircase of 20 steps.
The base of the tower is less than five meters in diameter, but it is a sufficient distance to fit two medium (6 KV) and high voltage (36 KV) machines and a transformer, which converts the energy that falls from the movement of the blades and injects it into a transmission network.
From there comes another vertical staircase, marine type, with 10 steps, which allows you to reach the first floor, from where a small elevator leaves that goes up 80 meters in height in three minutes. To have a proportion, the Obelisk of 9 de Julio avenue has a height of 67 meters.
The 60 x 60 cm elevator allows just two people to enter with enthusiasm and supports a weight of up to 250 kilos. It is designed so that you can make stops on the five lengths of pipe that rise up to form the tower. If the elevator breaks, there is a staircase that accompanies the tour.
The final stop is the previous floor before boarding the gondola or gondola. It is the 95-ton rectangular block that can be seen on top of the towers, from which the three blades or blades that rotate to the beat of the wind are connected. From this floor you can make the gondola rotate and orient the blades in the direction you want manually. This mechanism is actually done automatically by the wind turbine when it is running: in the same way that sunflowers seek the sun, wind turbines rotate to face the wind and make the most of wind energy.
Argentina has one of the best capacity factors for this energy, with around 55%. This means that the blades are in motion most of the day. In Europe, for example, onshore wind farms with the best capacity factors do not reach 40% capacity factor. For this reason, in the renewable sector, they point out that wind energy in the country is another Vaca Muerta, when comparing the efficiency of wind turbines with oil and gas wells in that formation.
To get to the gondola – which is nine meters long, three wide and three high – you have to go up a four-meter marine ladder again. Within this space is the axis that links the blades, which move driven by the wind, and the gearbox, which, as its name says, accelerates the speed received. This, in turn, is connected to the electrical generator, which converts kinetic energy into mechanical energy.
Above the shaft is the hatch that allows you to surface in front of the blades. Perspective is sometimes deceiving. Although from a distance the blades of wind turbines appear to move slowly, the sweet spot for generating power is when the wind is blowing at 12 meters per second (45 km/h). The tips of each blade, meanwhile, can rotate at a speed of up to 200 km/h.
Each blade weighs 19 tons and measures 67 meters. “It’s as if there were three obelisks spinning,” says Nelson Pron, the park’s maintenance engineer, who leads the ascent.
Each wind turbine has an installed power of 4 MW, which is equivalent to generating electricity to supply 5,000 homes. The Los Teros wind farm has 45 wind turbines installed in a dispersed manner to take better advantage of the wind, since it does not always blow in the same direction. The total installed capacity is 175 MW of renewable energy, which prevents the emission of 408,500 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). That is the equivalent of what it would imply to generate that same energy in a thermal power plant (it uses gas as fuel).
In addition, wind generation today is cheaper than thermal generation, something that did not happen in the first tenders launched in 2017. “The first Renovar contracts were signed at a price of US$90 per MWh, but there was a learning curve and now the prices dropped to between $63 and $65. Last year, with the skyrocketing price of gas, thermal energy cost around US$80, so wind energy became an economical alternative”, says Martín Mandarano, CEO of YPF Luz.
The main bottleneck for renewable energy is the lack of high-voltage transmission lines: in order to build more wind or solar farms, it is necessary to improve transportation to connect them with consumption centers. “When transportation is expanded, there will be greater dynamism in the sector, because there is a lot of demand from companies to consume their energy through renewable sources,” Mandarano projected.