Blowing hard at WindPower 2011

Windpower 2011 took place this week at Anaheim, California. There were all the people related with wind: developers look for investment opportunities, turbin manufacturers trying to sell their wind mills to developers, component suppliers trying to sell to turbine manufactures, economic develop. agencies looking for developers and some crazy inventors with the most incredible gadgets in wind power generation.
We exploited the occasion for improving our knowledge about US market and networking with the best. The most interesting meeting was with Oklahoma folks. We had the opportunity to know the Governor, Mary Fallin and chat with her and with her team. From the Spanish side, they were Dan Foley (CEO of Acciona), Martin Mugica (CEO of Iberdrola Renewables), Alfred Ritcher (Director at Gamesa), Javier San Miguel (Director at Cener), Aitor Sotes (CEO of Ingeteam) and my good friend Aitor Eizmendi (Business Developer of Sisener).
Oklahoma wind power
Oklahoma is supposed to be one the most interesting states to develop wind power. Its wind resource is very high (it is in the wind belt) and belongs to the eastern grid connection, (unlike the independat Texas, who belong to ERCOT). This is because Acciona has built a wind farm there and the rest of the companies are interested in it. However, they had the same problem that many other states in the US: a low inside consumption due to the low population and a lack of capacity in transmission lines to export the electricity to great places of consumption. We explained to the gently Governor the solution we made for dealing with the same problem in Spain. We showed the changes we did in order to deregulate the sector (not socialize the cost, ;-)) and to establish the new Red Electrica de España (REE) as the independent owner of the transmission lines and the system operator. I hope they appreciated our knowledge in the matter and we had opened a new way to solve the endemic trouble.

We also arranged a meeting with Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri, to explore the same business opportunities in wind power generation. The four states are neighbours and I imagine they want to follow the sucess way of Texas (with the 26% of wind power capacity in the US). Nevertheless, it is important to take into account thet the electricity regulation in Texas is totally different from the rest of the US. They have a liberalized market and a high consumption. It is important to transmit the message to Governors, regulators and economic development folks that without the correct regulation, it is very difficult to develop the sweet renewables.

Missouri meeting at Windpower

Arkansas meeting at Windpower

Apart of this, the exhibition had few people that the prior year and the sense of the market is that is a bit stopped and probably will continue like in the short run, due to  the fall out of cash grants at the end of the year, as everybody expect about.

Shut down San Onofre!!

Easter is a great week if you are Spanish, a long holiday weekend and lot of places for pray free for the salvation of the bad economy recession. As a good spanish, I had the opportunity to rest for four days and I decided to travel to San Diego. The city is awesome, you can see seals in La Jolla beach and other incredible sea life in Sea World; having lunch tasty pasta in Little Italy and go clubbing like in Madrid in the Gas Lamp District.

In the middle of the way between LA and San Diego, you can also experiment a bit scare in a such-theme-park about energy production. Thats happend when you pass by San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. It is striking that in a country as US, so concerned about security issues, you can get so close to a Nuclear Plant. It would be very easy for a terrorist to attack the installation and cause thousands of deaths. It is not only dangerous because that, also because it is just by the coast. And with Fukushima example so recent, I think it is not crazy to think about substituting this plant for other one more safety. San Onofre belongs to Southern California Edison utility.

If you know something about the risks of Nuclear Power, and probably you know now with the recents news from Japan, you will really get scare on the road to San Diego!

Trip to Arizona

On February 1st and 2nd, I traveled to Arizona to meet the main agencies and key players of the State related with Energy. Six spanish companies came with us, and the trip was very interesting since this State is supposed to convert itself in one of the leaders in renewables in US.

We met the following agencies and companies:

  • Arizona Commerce Authority
  • City of Phoenix
  • Salt River Project (Utility)
  • Greater Phoenix Economic Council
  • Carbon Free Technologies (PV Developer)
  • Quarles & Brady (Attorneys)
  • Arizona Public Service (Utility)

We stayed in Phoenix, and one the most striking thing for me was thet this city is actually the 5º city in the US. And it is growing up very faster also¡. So we can expect a growing electricity consumption in a short future. Also it is close to a really big energy consumer: California. So by the side of the energy demand, we can say it is a good place for develop projects.

What about the offer side? Arizona is the best place in US in solar resource. One of the things we forget in Europe, it is that in renewables, the main factor is the resource. (In Spain you can see PV plants in the cloudy north or even Germany-not sunny indeed- ¡weird¡). In addition, the cost of the land is lower than California and the permiting proccess is pretty simple. Nevertherless, they suffer the same problem than I have seen in the southwest: a lack in transsmission capacity and a monopolistic market organization. It is something to think about it.

Concentración Fotovoltaica, con el banco hemos topado

Con motivo de la feria Solar Power International 2010, celebrada el pasado mes de octubre, tuve la oportunidad, gracias a Pedro Banda, amigo de ISFOC y gran experto en fotovoltaica, de visitar una planta de Concentración Fotovoltaica. La planta está diseñada y construida de SolFocus, de las pocas empresas en el mundo que ya es capaz de construir este tipo de centrales. La planta es aproximadamente de 1MW de potencia y representa actualmente la planta más grande del mundo en esta tecnología. Se encuentra en Victorville, pueblo a mitad de camino entre Los Angeles y Las Vegas, donde ya comienza el desierto, pero en territorio todavía de California.

Panel concentracion fotovoltaica

La planta vende la energía a un instituto cercano, y está ubicada en los terrenos de esta. Al ser una instutución pública el permiting les resultó más fácil, pero están de acuerdo en que en California es una autentica pesadilla. La energía sobrante la venden a la red, no dijeron precios, pero me imagino que el PPA no será alto. La instalación es comercial pero casi de demostración, ya que no existen más de cinco en todo el mundo. Otra de ellas está en Puertollano, construida también por SolFocus para ISFOC.

Las ventajas de la CPV (Concentracion Fotovoltaica) es la reducción de costes que implica el uso de menos silicio para la misma potencia de salida, ya que a través de unos pequeños espejos se concentra la luz solar en las pequeñas placas fotovoltaicas. Por tanto para el mismo área de captación que un panel normal, se emplea menos silicio, que es el elemento más costoso de un panel. No obstante, para ello, el seguimiento o tracking ha de ser más exacto que un panel estandar de doble eje, ya que ha de ir perfectamente alineado con la radiación normal directa. Ello implica estructuras y cimentaciones más robustas.

Concentracion fotovoltaica

A pesar de ello, el impedimento más grande de esta tecnología por ahora, es la “maldita” bancabilidad (mala traducción de bankability), es decir que alguien tenga narices a financiar un proyecto con una tecnología tan nueva. Los bancos, en un contexto de restricción de crédito y pánico al moroso, cada vez actúan más como ingenieros, y analizan todos los componentes de un proyecto fotovoltaico, mirando la calidad de los módulos, del inversor, las garantías, y sobre todo los años de experiencia probada. Y ahí es donde la CPV falla. Frente a la gran experiencia en fotovoltaica tradicional, la CPV sólo tiene unos cuantos proyectos en su historia. Por tanto es complicado que un banco financie estos proyectos por ahora. Tiempo ha de pasar y trabajo, como el de ISFOC y el de SolFocus, se ha de realizar para que esta tecnología llegue a ser un opción.