(S)Ola! from Spain (Part 1)
This is our first ever family holiday by ‘plane. Like good greenies, we’ve avoided flying for ages but we’re desperate to get some sun and the old girl celebrated a significant birthday this year. We’ve done long distance train travel with kids before but, now we’re outnumbered, I think we’d struggle until they can all entertain themselves for more than 10 minutes.
About two hours into the flight, I took the bored middle one over to the empty first row and showed him the plains of Spain arrayed out below us. “Look, solar panels!” I exclaimed to an unimpressed 3 year old as entire fields of arrays came into view. And then a blinding light appeared on the ground, emanating from the middle of a series of concentric rings, like ripples on a pond. “What’s that?” was my first reaction, until I realised it was concentrated solar power. Jimmy remained non-plussed.
Ensconced in our lovely Granada villa, I did a bit of googling and I think we saw the Gemosolar Thermosolar plant (above) near Seville (the other two Spanish power tower systems sit side-by-side, so we’d have noticed them both). This 140m tower with its 2650 reflectors (sorry, heliostats) can pump out 20MW and certainly from the air, it looked fearsome.
Spain has more than 4.2GW of installed solar power compared to the UK’s 1GW – unsurprising given how much sun the country gets. The rate of increase is being slowed by the kind of Feed-in Tariff (FiT) reductions that have been seen in the UK. However wind power beats solar in both countries – 21GW in Spain and 8.5GW in the UK.
While these huge installations are impressive, I can’t help thinking that trying to emulate the economies of scale that work for fossil fuels isn’t the most efficient way of using renewable technologies. Renewable energy (insolation, wind, hydro etc) is diffuse and so is our use of energy – so matching generation and consumption on a more local level may be more efficient and sensible on the larger scale. That takes us neatly onto the solar hot water systems in our villa which I’ll describe next time.
Photo: Torresol Energy