The company Energy to Quality, created in 2005 in part by university professors in Madrid, developed a voltage-dip generator to mimic power fluctuations in a controlled fashion. The company consults with manufacturers to analyze how short circuits affect their turbines, allowing the designs to be improved.
The government specifications and company innovations make the grid interconnections in Spain among the best in the world, according to Cena. But though wind continues to capture a greater share of electricity production, he believes there's still room for improvement. "The main challenges for the future are from the electrical point of view," he says. "We need to integrate a great deal of wind power into the system. There are many challenges, and there many Spanish companies working to find solutions."
Indeed, 500 Spanish companies now work in the wind-power sector, most providing services and equipment not only in Spain but around the world.
Operating the System
The Spanish power utility Iberdrola, which has been selling kilowatt-hours for more than a century, is the largest wind-power operator in the world, managing more than 7,700 megawatts of power in 19 countries.
"From a management point of view it's easy to have five or six wind farms, but when you have 7,700 megawatts blowing in the wind around the world, you have to also be innovative in the way you manage the assets," says Carlos Gascó, one of the directors of Iberdrola Renewables. "You have to make a huge effort in information flow on a real-time schedule."
That effort is carried out at the operations center, known as CORE. Rows of computers hum quietly in a spacious office in Toledo, south of Madrid. Huge screens along the front wall flash a variety of detailed images. Some display an international map of Iberdrola wind farms, shaded to indicate which are in operation. Others display a group of turbines at one particular facility; with the click of a mouse, an engineer can narrow in on the current, real-time operations of each turbine in every wind farm around the world.
Information flows in continuously, through fiber-optic channels and by satellite. More than a million points of data— more than 300 for each turbine— are transmitted from local and international facilities.
From this center, the company can initiate or halt machine operations as necessary. If engineers detect a problem in a turbine, they can alert local maintenance staff to investigate the problem and bring the turbine up to speed again quickly. "We want to reduce the time that any turbine is offline and allow each wind farm to produce more," says Gustavo Moreno, CORE manager.
This impressive facility was born of Spanish government regulations, which require all renewable-power operators to institute real-time control centers that send information to the Spanish grid operator, Red Electrica ("red" means grid in Spanish). The center also incorporates the company's forecasting system, which predicts the amount of wind that will be available from any given farm over the next two days. Iberdrola has always pursued a mix of energy with a focus on clean, renewable sources, according to Gascó. Originally that meant hydropower, but in 2001 the company made a decision to invest significantly in today's cleaner technologies, including wind.
The company scaled up rapidly, from four wind farms in 2003 to more than 600 today— an expansion that demanded a rigorous approach to management. "Wind-farm operators in the past had a kind of romantic approach to energy," says Gascó. "The pioneers were engineers and technicians planting little wind farms or individual wind turbines. It has moved to being a mainstream source of power."
As Iberdrola expanded into markets around the world, Gascó says, the company also worked to navigate each country's regulations, requirements, and cultural standards. "You don't talk to someone from Argentina the same as you talk to someone in Mongolia, the U. K., or the U. S," he says.
Today, Gascó adds, Iberdrola sees wind as an important part of the energy mix. "We saw that the political impulse is today going toward something that is more sustainable— and it's the right business decision," he says. "It's also good business for a large base of shareholders. So we think that the company is very well positioned from every point of view: technically, technologically, financially, and environmentally."
Endesa, another electric company and major wind-farm operator in Spain, built some of the earliest wind farms in the Canary Islands and in the region of Catalonia and Galicia. The company has a presence in 12 countries; last year it began operating the first wind farm in Chile. It also recently signed an agreement with another of the largest developers in Spain— Enerfin, part of the Elecnor group— to jointly develop offshore wind parks in southern Spain.
"We're trying to optimize the management system and the design so that the energy we produce is the most efficient possible," says Fernando Ferrando, Endesa's director of renewable energy.
For the past two years, Endesa has sponsored a research award, open to universities, laboratories, private individuals, and businesses, for work on sustainable technologies and energy sources that minimize climate change. The four 2007 winners, from Spain, Italy, and Chile, each receive 500,000 euros (about $771,000) and access to the company's expertise in business development. One of the winners, a team including researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Spanish Council for Scientific Research, focused on reducing energy loss and increasing transmission capacity in the grid.