General Strikes, Public Marijuana Cultivation and Concentrating Solar Power
(This is the first of two blogs about Spain’s growing concentrating solar power industry and it’s potential role in solving that country’s debt crisis.)
Spain has been in the news a lot the past month. On March 29th, they had a massive general strike which shut down virtually all heavy industry, public transport, TV stations and airlines. The cause of the strike was a proposal by Spain’s right wing Popular Party to slash public services by 15%, laying off thousands more workers, in a country that already has 23% unemployment. I find such extreme austerity measures quite puzzling, given Spain’s low levels of public debt. Spain’s public indebtedness sands at 70% of GDP, only slightly higher than US debt levels (69.4% of GDP). See Spain’s Critical Issue is Private Debt and CIA Fact Book). The majority of Spanish debt is private debt (220% of GDP), held by banks and municipalities (see CNN Spain Politics Economy).
Earlier in the month the town of Rasquera (population 900) was in the news when it voted to pay off its 1.3 million euro debt by leasing private land to the 5,000 member Barcelona Personal Use Association (ABCDA). The ABCDA has agreed to pay Rasquera 650,000 euros a year to allow them to cultivate marijuana. In Spain it’s legal to possess (and apparently cultivate) marijuana for personal use (see Spanish Town Marijuana Plantation).
The other important story out of Spain concerned the opening of a new Concentrating Solar Power plant. Unfortunately most of the US media seems to have missed this one. A macoeconomic study performed in late 2011 suggests that Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), also known as Solar Thermal Energy (STE), will play a much larger role in solving the Spanish debt crisis than either austerity cuts or leasing public land for cannabis cultivation.
Concentrating Solar Power aka Solar Thermal Energy (STE)
Spain’s heavy investment in CSP may take a decade or more to reach sufficient capacity to be competitive with plants powered by fossil fuels. However it clearly has enormous economic potential in the long run. Concentrating solar power is a technology that receives scant attention in the US, even in the environmental movement. CSP systems use mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight, or solar thermal energy, onto a small area. Electrical power is produced when the concentrated light is converted to heat, which drives a heat engine (usually a steam turbine) connected to an electrical power generator.
The Italian inventor Giovanni Francia designed and built the first concentrating solar plant near Genoa, which first went on-line in 1968. In 1981 the 10 megawatt (MW) Solar One power tower began operation in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The nearby Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS), consisting of nine solar plants with a total of 254 MW generation capacity, went on-line in 1984.
Advantages of Concentrating Solar Power over Photovoltaic Cells
The main advantage over photovoltaic cell (PVC) solar generation is the ability of CSP to generate, like a conventional coal or gas-powered plant, a large enough load to power a grid, as opposed to a single home or business. It also has the advantage of providing cheap and efficient thermal energy storage, which means it can produce electricity continuously night or day, especially during peak demand periods (summer evening hours or winter mornings).
In 2007 Spain installed Europe’s first commercial concentrating solar power plan, which generates 11 MW, near Seville. This was the first of series of solar power generation plants, expected to total more than 300 MW by 2013. This will be sufficient to provide electricity for all of Seville’s 180,000 homes.
The Seville plants received substantial funding from the European Union (EU), which is finding energy security a major political headache, as outlined in the 2000 European Commission’s “Green Paper.” As of 2000, the EU met 50% of its energy needs through imports. As the Green Paper warns, if no action is taken, this could increase to 70% by 2020 (see The Desertec Mirage).
In the last five years, other major funders have come on board, including seven major Spanish banks and companies involved in Desertec (http://www.desertec.org/), a non-profit foundation formed to develop CSP and wind energy in North Africa and the Middle East.
The World Leader in CSP Production
By the end of 2010, Spain had surpassed the US as the world leader in CSP production, increasing their total capacity to 531.5 MW3, from 299.8 MW they produced in 2009. By October 2011, 420 additional MW more had gone into operation, with an 1200 MW under construction, and nearly 2500 MW entered in the Pre-allocation Register to be installed by the end of 2013.
To be continued.Share and Enjoy: