Spain Blows Away Monthly Wind Energy Record

They say the rain in Spain stays mostly in the plain. But apparently the wind in Spain blows everywhere.

This February, a record 21.7 percent of Spain’s electricity came from wind power. The 4,890 gigawatt-hours of electricity generated from wind made it the country’s third-largest source of energy in the month, after coal and nuclear power plants, according to Red Eléctrica de España (REE).

image via Gamesa

Although Spain has poured signficant money, in the form of feed-in tariffs, into solar power development, Europe has been experiencing a severely cold winter, where wind power can thrive. By using its wind turbines instead of fossil fuels to supply electricity, Spanish electricity prices fell to €51/MWh during the first two weeks of February while in neighboring France electricity cost €105/MWh. During that time, wind provided a whopping 28.9 percent of Spain’s electricity.

Success with wind power has been recorded in the United States as well. Installed capacity has risen steadily and according to the Energy Information Administration, wind power has been the fastest-growing source of new electric power generation for several years. But even after increasing 28.1 percent in 2010 over 2009, its share of total generation was at just 2.3 percent, far short of the numbers being posted in Spain.

As oil prices soar and the burning of fossil fuels because more problematic as countries set greenhoue gas emissions caps, succesful models of renewable energy will be extremely significant for countries worldwide. Wind energy’s success this winter in Spain shows that even without highly advanced energy storage technology, an intermittent renewable power source could provide a significant chuck of the country’s energy portfolio. Critics have long argued that power from sun or wind cannot be dependable because it shuts down when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. But Spain’s success with wind power highlights the role intermittent power sources can play.

In the United States, fossil fuel fans claim that the economy is another reason we need oil and gas. They argue that installing renewables is simply too expensive and risky. Spain’s success this winter can also answer this claim as it shows that renewable energy, while perhaps more expensive at installation phase, can provide quick return on investment by consistently lowering the price of electricity and eliminating the need to contantly purchase new fuel.

It may also be true that the renewable enery sector creates more, and more skilled, jobs than the fossil fuel industry. According to Spanish wind energy comapny Gamesa, the country’s wind sector provides over 30,000 jobs and prevents Spain from importing of over 2 billion euros’ worth of fossil fuels. In all, that means that Spain’s wind sector provides a return of three euros for every euro invested, according to Gamesa. It remains to be seen if Texas will also see significant returns on investment from its wind energy, but for now renewable energy fans are celebrating the possibility of cleaner air and fewer drill beds.

Shifra Mincer is a freelance journalist and passionate tweeter (@Shiframincer) currently living in Israel. Before moving to Israel to apprentice with a homebirth midwife, Shifra worked as Associate Editor of AOL Energy, and was a member of the launch team that got the site up and running. Shifra has over a half a decade of experience in journalism and has written on women's health, green technology, politics and regulation of the energy industry, energy financial news, and local news. While studying for her B.A. at Harvard College, Shifra worked as a news editor for the Harvard Crimson. Shifra is also a yoga teacher and a birth doula and is hoping to create an active Jewish birth community through her web venture www.layda.org.