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History of solar thermal energy in Spain

History of solar thermal energy in Spain


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In the 1970s and early 1980s, as energy costs skyrocketed due to the oil crises, most Western countries launched R&D programs in renewable energy. Spain is committed, among others, to solar thermal energy, which in its simplest version consists of concentrating sunlight to produce steam that moves turbines and thus generate electricity.

In collaboration with Germany, a large research center in this energy source was founded in Tabernas (Almería): the Almería Solar Platform (PSA). The excellence of the facilities and the researchers who work there quickly make this center one of the world's leading experts. Spain becomes the world leader, along with the United States, in solar thermal energy.

As the price of oil falls, interest in renewable energy decreases. Some governments quit. Others continue to promote them and thus energies such as wind take off and are consolidated as interesting alternatives. Cogeneration (the generation of electricity by users to take advantage of waste heat) spreads rapidly where the laws allow it, in Spain for example.

Spanish research in solar thermal energy continues and at the beginning of the 90s, people began to talk about building the first 21 MW solar power plant in the country, in Huelva. The project is led by Sevillana, an Andalusian company that has opted for renewable energy as an option for the future. The PSA and other research centers are the scientific-technical protagonists of this adventure, which is called "Colón Solar". The most innovative thing about the project is that it will be profitable thanks to the legislation approved by the Socialist Government, which greatly favors renewable energy and cogeneration.

In 1996 the PP came to power and quickly changed the entire national energy panorama from top to bottom. A little because of patronage towards Castilla y León but above all due to dark commitments with coal entrepreneurs, the PP began to privilege everything that this source can " traditional "energy company The electricity company that is most based on coal is the public Endesa, and the PP is going to make the PP its tool to control the Spanish electricity market.

Aznar appoints his friend, former minister Rodolfo Martín Villa, as president of Endesa. Immediately afterwards, the company was fully privatized, with the Government keeping a "golden share" (repeatedly criticized and even outlawed by the European Commission) to have the right of veto in any important decision of the company. Meanwhile, Endesa launches hostile takeover bids against two of its main regional rivals: Fecsa (Catalan) and Sevillana (Andalusian). Thanks to the unconditional support of the Government, these takeover bids are successful. (It is curious how in the Spanish capitalist system, what decides the success of a takeover bid is the attitude of the Government and not the price per share, the potential synergies of the companies ... And if not, they ask Gas Natural) Endesa swallows thus two of its main competitors just before the electricity market opens up to competition.

For Sevillana, the takeover bid implies total dismantling. All decision centers in Seville are eliminated, the centrals are transferred to Endesa, Sevillana is reduced to a distribution brand, due to the loyalty of customers (who do not have much choice, on the other hand). In the useless offices of the Sevillana building, Endesa sets up the headquarters of a new subsidiary: "Endesa Cogeneración y Renovables", which theoretically will take advantage of Sevillana's experience in this field. That's what the press releases say, at least. The director of this branch gave a lecture one day at my engineering school. The summary of it could be: "do not focus your career on cogeneration or renewables; what has a future are nuclear and coal? Coming from who it came, it could not stop being disturbing.

In 1998 the Colón Solar project is frozen. Endesa says it wants to review the financing, the objectives ... Months later, the PP promulgates the new Electricity Law. Curiously, only Endesa technicians have been called in for its preparation. Curiously, the new Law heavily penalizes cogeneration plants and greatly reduces the advantages that renewable electricity had enjoyed until then. The last straw is that the Law, in the list of energies that it considers renewable, simply does not mention solar thermal energy. Forgetfulness, malice, or sheer joke?

During the parliamentary process, at least the last point is corrected and solar thermal energy is not relegated to secrecy. However, any hope of making a profitable project with renewable energy is shattered. And the same for cogeneration, whose progress has been hampered in its tracks since then.

Colón Solar is definitively annulled shortly after. The following year, Germany left the PSA. The director of the Platform, with his budget cut short, seeing the very clear lack of political will of the Spanish Government, presents his resignation in 2001. The resignation is rejected, with which the Government manages to maintain a status quo of paralysis that suits its purposes. Many of the best PSA researchers walk away, disgusted. It will take a year of tug of war for the director to finally be replaced and the Platform can timidly resume its battered activity.

And this is the end of the story. As you can see, there is no happy ending and there will not be until new winds blow in the offices of certain ministries.


Video: Heliostat - The Solar Power Of The Future. How Cities Work. Spark (May 2022).