Wind power overtakes nuclear power to become Spain’s main energy source this year

by Lorraine Williamson
wind energy

With only a few weeks to go until the end of the year, it is already known that wind energy will be the most important source of energy in Spain this year. A milestone, because for the first time in Spain’s history a renewable source takes this place.  

Wind energy has outperformed other sources before but never before measured over the period of one year. The advantage of wind energy over nuclear power (which is in second place, measured in megawatt production) is unmatchable for the rest of this year. Even in the hypothetical event that the wind stops blowing and the nuclear power plants run at full capacity (which is also impossible because half of them are shut down for recharging these days), wind power remains. A milestone for renewable energy sources. This is partly due to the increase in installed wind power capacity, which has risen by 12% in two years. It was only a matter of time before this milestone would be reached. 

The rating coincided with a new production record on Wednesday. Strong winds caused production to be 4.2% higher than the previous record set in January. The strong wind caused prices to fluctuate quite a bit, from €14 per megawatt hour (MWh) at six in the morning to €238 MWh at nine in the evening.  

Why is wind energy doing so well?  

Between 1 January and 7 December 2021, Spanish wind turbines produced more than 23.1% of the electricity system’s total energy. More than nuclear power, and more than the combined cycle (where gas is burned to produce electricity). 

Opinions differ as to why wind power had such a boost this year. Some point to the shutdown of two of the seven nuclear reactors. But the fact is that this happens every year, explained Xavier Cugat, an expert on renewable energy sources. ‘If all the plants were to run at full power for 24 hours until the end of the year, they would generate around 4 million MWh. Not enough to beat wind power’.  

The upward trend of wind power has been going on for some time. During this year, it has almost continuously generated more electricity than nuclear power. 

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In December, wind power already generated more than 7,000 megawatt hours, which is the maximum capacity of all nuclear power plants operating at the same time, says Pedro Fresco, Director General of Ecological Transition of the Valencia Regional Government. 

With the closure of the existing nuclear power plants planned for 2035, wind energy is emerging as the most important energy source for the coming years, with the highest capacity in Spain. Despite the emergence of more renewable energy sources. For example, solar photovoltaic capacity has doubled in the last two years. Over the same period, output has only grown by 12%.  

Higher gas price increases need for wind energy 

The power of wind can be enormous. At certain times, the yield can be more than 17,000 MWh, which is like having 17 active reactors at work’, Fresco points out. With the high price of gas this year, it seems more necessary than ever to invest in cleaner and cheaper energy sources. The good news is that in 2021 we generated almost 47% renewable energy in total, the highest percentage in history. If we continue like this, 2022 could be the first year where we get more than 50% of production from green sources.  

A bit unpredictable 

But not all that glitters is gold. Last summer’s output was lower than normal for wind power. The increase in capacity did not seem very noticeable. Solar power, on the other hand, is more constant and predictable; wind is more variable from year to year. But the winter months of late autumn and spring are usually very good for wind power,’ Cugat said. 

Back to coal? 

It is time for the clean energy sources to solve their capacity problems if they do not want to be dependent on backup sources. Nuclear power and the combined cycle are doing that now. The high price of gas has also reopened the debate on reactors and even led to a return to burning coal, another source on the verge of extinction. 

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