Centralised control nationwide

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Spain is close to becoming Europe's first country to enforce a nationwide obligation on all wind plant to operate through centralised despatch control centres, which provide transmission system operators (TSOs) real time monitoring of production and give them control of wind output in periods of transmission congestion. But in the last days of 2006 the government responded to wind industry requests and stretched the December 31 deadline for equipping wind plant with the required technology to June 31, 2007. By end-2006, just 6550 MW of Spain's 11,600 MW of installed wind capacity was linked to fully operational despatch centres, according to Juan Francisco Alonso of national TSO Red Eléctrica de España (REE). A further 972 MW was equipped and undergoing tests.

The complexity and expense of remote monitoring and control technology explains the delay in meeting the rules in Spain by smaller wind plant operators, says Alberto Ceña of Spanish wind group Asociación Empresarial Eólica (AEE). He points out, however, that nearly two years after the January 1, 2007 deadline was set in December 2005, AEE was receiving many first requests for advice from its members on how to go about meeting the rules.

By last month, control centres for all remaining online capacity were being processed, says Alonso. If the June deadline remains firm, operators failing to comply lose incentive payments for wind power production. "That is the only economic incentive to comply," says Alonso. "It is also the prerequisite for meeting the national 21 GW wind target for 2010."

Meanwhile, Spain's wind plant operators have made good progress on the remaining grid integration task: ensuring that turbines support the network during sporadic grid faults, instead of tripping offline and complicating system recovery. Alonso says 49% of existing capacity is already equipped voluntarily. From January 1, wind plant must be able to prove they can ride-through grid faults to receive a connection permits. Alonso expects the government to approve an official standard certification for turbine ride-through capability "very soon."

REE's conditions for allowing 21 GW of wind by 2010 are part of a bigger plan which includes EUR 2.7 billion of transmission capacity upgrades during 2002-2011, with 18% to be paid by the wind sector.

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