Spain's wind-power sector has continued its dramatic growth. Installed capacity in the country doubled in only three years, from 2003 to 2006, and is expected to double again by 2010. Spanish companies rank in the world's top 10 among both wind-farm operators and turbine manufacturers.
In recent years, wind power has entered the mainstream. Prices have dropped nearly to those of conventional power sources, and governments around the world are increasingly interested in renewable energy that utilizes local resources and reduces greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2007, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, more than 20,000 megawatts of capacity were installed internationally, with the United States, Spain, and China leading the way.
In Spain, where wind turbines curve over hillsides and along highways in certain areas, 2007 was a record year, with 3,523 megawatts installed— compared with an annual average of 1,200.
"It was a surprise, even for us in the wind sector," says Alberto Cena, director of the Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE). "We didn't expect to have this large a growth— but we are of course very happy."
The rapid expansion owed a great deal to a series of government decrees, which provided the necessary stability to encourage investment. Spanish utilities are required to purchase any wind power produced, and wind-farm operators can choose to receive a set price or sell their power on the market and receive an added premium. Spain ranks third in the world for overall installed power, only behind Germany and the United States.
In fact, wind supplied 10 percent of all Spanish electricity in 2007. On one record day, March 4, 2008, wind gusts sweeping the country provided 28 percent of the country's total electricity.
The Spanish government also developed strict electricity requirements, or grid codes. Because wind is an intermittent resource, providing power only when it blows, the grid has to be able to cope with fluctuations and dips in electricity. When wind accounted for only a small percentage of the country's power, such dips made little difference. But as this resource achieved greater prominence, split-second losses of power could have caused problems, especially since Spain doesn't have strong grid connections with neighboring countries.