Spot the solar plant!

Time for a a game?

Now, let’s see, have a look at the following picture and try to find the solar plant:

WP_20141217_15_09_54_Pro

Found it?

The picture is from last week on a flight to Madrid from Algiers, with a pretty clear sky. I tried to spot the solar plants, and was able to find only one. Of course it is much easier to see the wind parks or even the nuclear power stations (actually Cofrentes nuclear power plant is in the picture). That you can see on the picture, right?

This exercise helps to think about how a country’s land is used and how it could. The land use of renewables is of much discussion, as they require more space than nuclear or thermal. This is also because land use has a strong link to food security, specially land use for biomass and bio-fuels (which require the most surface, more than 800 km2/TWh for electricity production).

According to the Greenpeace study Energía 3.0, (written who I was lucky to have as professor, Dr. X. Casals) up to 15,1 %, or 4,3% (not using biomass from energy farming) of the ground would be used for renewable to have a 100% renewable energy system (could be somewhat lower with more Concentrated Solar power-CSP). Wind does not occupy as much as solar on land, so other agricultural use is possible at the same time on part of that surface (take into account that 79 % on a given scenario in the study is wind on shore).

Given today’s land use of the energy system in Spain is not much above 1%, the difference seems relevant. (Nowadays, approximately 28% of the land is protected and 51% is for agriculture, 7% fallow land, and 14% pastures and meadows)

Today flying over Spain it is easy to see wind parks, which is reasonable given there are over 23 GW of wind power, capable of covering more than half of the demand power and covering 21,2 % of energy last year. For the 4,4 GW of solar, it is more difficult to see. Another reason is that solar can be building integrated and smaller, only utility scale plants and concentrated solar plants can be perceived from the sky.

However, with the scenarios calculated in the report, we would see at least 3 times more wind power plants, and we would specially see more CSP power plants (at least 30 times actually installed capacity) in 2050.

So, next time you fly over Spain, try to spot the solar plants! You will probably conclude Spain’s landscape is not so much filled with wind parks, and that we could have much more installed solar power, not only because it is sunny, there is also quite some space for it… (you might also think if Spain needs to bring energy from Desertec)

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