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Big decline in Spanish market this year -- Shortage of grid capacity now being felt by project developers

Installation of new wind power stations in Spain could fall this year by as much as 42% compared with the around 2000 MW achieved in 2004. The market downturn is being blamed on the reluctance of grid operator Red Eléctrica de España (REE) to issue more connection permits for wind stations in areas with weak grids.

The Spanish wind lobby, however, while warning of the slow down, does not expect it to last for long. "We're talking about a temporary lull," says Alberto Ceña of national wind association Asociación Empresarial Eólica (AEE), formerly named the Plataforma Eólica Empresarial. As soon as technical improvements are made in the ability of wind stations to respond to faults in the electricity network, much of REE's difficulty with wind will disappear, says Ceña. The improvements concern technological modifications to entire wind stations and individual turbines as well as ways of controlling key grid points with concentrated levels of wind power connected to them.

While grid-point control is being tackled piecemeal at regional level, there is already a nationwide incentive encouraging the wind industry to deliver projects capable of riding through grid faults (Windpower Monthly, November 2004). AEE is currently finalising joint studies with REE to define the exact technological requirements to be made of wind plant operators. Ceña expects results by the summer and hopes they will be followed immediately by a state endorsed technology standard. "This will free up the grid to much more capacity," he says.

Ironically it is the Spanish government's enthusiasm for wind power which is contributing to the market slow down. The government last month confirmed a hike in the national wind target from 13 GW to 20 GW by 2011. Today's operating capacity is about 8600 MW. REE's worries about the increasing impact on its system of increasing volumes of wind power is leading it to withhold connection permits, especially in areas with already large concentrations of wind plant.

Hardest hit

Two regions are particularly hard hit. "Aragón is at a practical standstill," says Enrique Albiol of renewables group Asociación de Productores de Energías Renovables (APPA). Castile and León is also suffering a virtual freeze on new grid permits, having added more than 530 MW in 2004 to become last year's strongest performer, says Eugenio Garcia of the regional wind association. AEE does not believe new permits in the other two major wind development regions, Galicia and Castile-La Mancha, can take up the slack -- and it is unlikely that the up-and-coming regions will do so before the end of the year.

REE is calling for control centres at the main grid points in Castile and León as a precondition to new licenses, says Garcia. Recently, REE, the regional government and wind project developers have come to an agreement to work on establishing such centres. "There's already a large number of proposals on the table," says Garcia.

While Castile and León might be the most extreme example, Ceña says REE is also demanding centralised grid-point control in all major wind regions. So far, however, such demands do not appear to be halting progress in Galicia and Castile-La Mancha, which each have well over 200 MW building.


In Castile-La Mancha, utility Iberdrola's roaring development -- which accounts for over 60% of the regional total -- may provide an indication of the importance of centralised control. In 2004, Iberdrola launched its Centre for Operations of Renewable Energy (CORE) in the region. CORE can monitor a wide range of parameters at the grid connection point. On one occasion, Iberdrola even used it to voluntarily curtail wind production at REE's behest. Over the past six months, Iberdrola has landed new grid permits for over 200 MW, according to its regional offices, while other developers are struggling to get permits for much smaller projects. Competitors are whispering of REE favouritism towards Iberdrola due to CORE. And rumours abound that the utility is proposing a similar control centre for Castile and León.

Despite such suspicions, Ceña finds a silver lining to the temporary slowdown: "Delays now will allow the sector to catch up with the technology and more turbines will be equipped to ride through grid faults further down the line. Ultimately, this will improve grid security and open the grid to more wind power."

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