Despite all the negative press mentioning even “dark days for solar thermal” following the sudden technology shift at Blythe from CSP to PV, the optimism at the inauguration of Andasol 3 last week was infectious.
The clearest messages of all were that:
- CSP technology still has big potential in parts of Spain where the high local levels of direct irradiation make it economic, and
- Andalucia is of one of a handful of ideally suited locations for Europe’s conversion to renewable energies. Today, Andalucia is the first region in Europe to install commercial solar thermal projects: 448MW now functioning and 499.5MW under construction. By 2013 Andalucia will have 997.4MW of solar thermal installations, satisfying the needs of more than 1.5 million people.
“With Andasol 3 we are investing in production technology which is likely, alongside wind and hydroelectric power, to become a major component of European energy supply”, commented the managing director of RheinEnergie.
Andasol 3 is Europe’s largest solar plant. It took three years to build (completed on schedule), has an installed output of 50MW, will generate 16 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, is equipped with parabolic mirrors and a salt solution storage facility that can provide an additional 8 hours of power after the sun goes down. This power storage also ensures grid stability. The IRR of the plant is estimated at around 12% by Solar Millennium. IRRs for future CSP plants could climb higher if equipment costs fall and turbine efficiencies rise. Andasol 3 is one of three adjacent plants similar in size that together will meet electricity consumption for half a million people.
The line up of inauguration speakers reflected just how ‘European’ this giant solar project really is. Speakers came from the five German infrastructure and power companies in the Andasol consortium (Stadtwerke Munchen, RWE Innogy, RheinEnergie, Ferrostaal and Solar Millennium) and local politicians from Spain, the most senior being the General Secretary of Industry and Energy for Andalusia, Isabel De Haro Aramberri. Nearly all speakers switched between languages with perfect fluency.
Andasol is built in La Calahorra where it replaced a mining area that was closed 14 years ago. The mayor of La Calahorra thanked locals who sold the “land of their forefathers” for the solar project and stressed the importance of jobs for the area. At peak construction stages, the plant employed 600 people. Revenue from these solar projects comes from many sources, site preparation, system installation, maintenance which must be done locally with local jobs. There are also sources of tax revenue from local to European government levels. Interestingly the supplier for mirrors at Andasol 3 is Rio Glass from Asturias in Northern Spain.
Seated with us were two representatives from Baza, a neighboring area, who attended in order to meet the Spanish representatives of Solar Millennium to gather more information about possibly opening “Andasol 4” with the same technology. “We have the second largest dam, so there’s adequate water. It will be good for the local economy”.
The series of speeches ended with an invitation by the master of ceremony calling to the podium the local priest. The priest joked that he was the only speaker with no paper because his comments came from the heart. Pouring holy water on a maquette of Andasol 3, and grinning about the natural combination of water and sun, he asked God to “bring the area prosperity, solidarity, justice and equality.”
As ribbon was cut, John Lennon’s voice singing “Here comes the sun” was blasted at full volume, announcing the very bright days ahead for utility-scale solar in Spain.