Fresh water from offshore wind -- Canary Islands desalination

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A Spanish energy project company, Besel, has completed a feasibility study for a 10 MW offshore wind development combined with desalination plant for the coastal waters of the largest of the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria. Lack of project backing, however, is forcing the company to lower its sights to a reduced scale prototype of 300-500 kW. A backer to carry through the original project is still sought. "We can adapt it to anywhere, from the North Sea to Australia."

Besel's Guillermo Escobar claims to have clinched a "Spanish construction giant" to develop its scaled down prototype, consisting of a single turbine. Both turbine and electrical desalination plant will be installed offshore "either for the Canary or Balearic Islands."

"The combination of offshore wind/desalination is ideal for islands like the Canaries with water shortages," says Escobar. Island tourism adds an extra component as it not only inflates land prices -- and therefore installed capacity costs -- but also boosts fresh water demand. At the same time, the visual and acoustic impact on tourists from both turbines and desalination plant practically disappears by putting them out at sea.

restrict dependency

The main advantage of combining desalination is that it provides an immediate offload for wind power. This is especially important for limited island grids such as those in the Canaries, which have to restrict their dependency on intermittent energy sources like wind. "Producing drinking water is more profitable than electricity in the Canary Islands," says Escobar. "This means that our wind turbines would only inject excess production into the grid; hardly enough to cause a flicker."

Escobar considers larger islands such as Crete or Sicily as ideal for its full-scale project as they suffer fresh water shortages while possessing larger grids than the Canaries. Besel's viability study estimates an investment of EUR 18 million in buying and installing the five 2 MW turbines and EUR 27.5 million for the inverse osmosis desalination plant. Annual earnings are estimated at EUR 10.74 million for water sales and EUR 0.37 million for electricity.

"The main problem with Spanish offshore is that it is an unknown quantity without any administrative precedent," says Escobar. "Maybe this is why the Canary authorities are reluctant to consider the project." He points out that permits for installing a wind measuring tower for the mainland's only viable offshore site at Trafalgar (page 28) have still not been granted three years after the first application was lodged.

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