El Observatorio Crítico de la Energía (OCE) (The Energy Critical Observatory) was founded in early 2007 by a group of young engineers and scientists who, united around a common analysis of the problems of society, decided to start a public activity aimed at the transformation and regeneration of the democratic system. The principles on which this activity is organized are rooted in a critique of ecological and economic unsustainability of our society and the degradation of our democratic culture. Conceived as a progressive and essentially critical organization, the OCE is a forum for discussion and analysis. It tries to generate a rigorous and informed discourse to address these issues from a position that combines the solvency of the scientific method with the political and social awareness.
For historical reasons, the OCE has concentrated its public activity in Spain, hence most of the materials are in Spanish. But obviously the problems that we deal with are of global nature, and recently we have become growingly interested in the situation in other countries and at a European level. If you want to collaborate on these topics, or simply have questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact us.
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This is an example of the different activities that we carry out. The two ideas behind this report were:
- To illustrate that a 100% RES (Renewable Electricity System) at a country level is something that one can actually plan, that the numbers make sense and that the variability of the main renewable sources can be dealt with. In this regard, we summarize a report made by the Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie (ADEME). This report shows how a 100% RES would work in France at different time-scales (day / week / year); some of the figures are very didactic, and we devoted a number of pages to describe them.
- To translate the ADEME study for 100% RES in France to Spain, and to analyze if it was feasible. We wanted to study the methodology used for the study and see if it made sense to apply it to the Spanish case, considering that the two countries have different electricity markets. In Spain several independent sources have produced such study, but no official governmental agency has done so.
First of all, we analyzed the French and the Spanish energy mix. We saw that in Spain we would need to install less RES capacity to achieve the 100% RES target, but we would require shutting down more gas and coal plants than in France. Contrary, in France the whole nuclear park should be dismantled.
We saw as well that the Spanish RES system should be more autonomous than the French one, since France is much more interconnected with neighboring countries than Spain.
In South Spain the use of solar thermoelectric energy is advisable, contrary to France. However, in the English Channel a high amount of off-shore wind can be installed.
In France most of the heating demand is electric, and this can be controlled easier than in Spain, where we usually heat with natural gas. However, the heating sector was out of the scope of the study so we did not focus on this point.
Additionally to the technical parameters, we also studied how feasible, in the current political landscapes, was to shut down the nuclear power plants (in France) and the coal and fuel power plants (in Spain). We considered that it was difficult in both countries, but Spain has an added difficulty because the sector is more liberalized and public opinion does not reject carbon-based power utilities as much as nuclear power plants.
Then we took the example of an electrical system 100% RES in Spain by 2050, carried out by S. Galbete, from Acciona (describing Spain as a system, not considering different regions with different demands and mixes). After analyzing both cases, we found out that:
- Perhaps the most striking difference between the two studies is the almost total absence of controllable renewable power in France: in the base scenario, France only uses 3 GW of biomass (only wood) and a few hundred of geothermal MW, compared to the 8.3 /11.8 proposed for Spain (2.75/4 times more). The main consequence of this is that the capacity of storage should be increased for France in approximately the same proportion (4/6 times more).
- A system that depends more on the storage capacity and has less controllable renewable energy also needs more base capacity: the French system requires the increase of more than 50% of installed power while the Spanish case requires only a 9% -12% increase. We should also take into account that the French system has a very high penetration of nuclear generation, while the Spanish system has already a very high penetration of wind energy and enormous overcapacity.
- The French reference scenario proposes a 4/1 ratio between the energy produced by wind and solar as the most efficient relationship. This relationship, however, is problematic in Spain, since it is difficult to extend wind generation beyond a certain point (or vice versa: if the solar installation is to be maintained in the fourth part of the wind, then there is not enough base capacity to support the system). Consequently, the proportion predicted for Spain is next to 2/1. However, it is important to emphasize that this 4/1 only indicates an economic optimization and not a technical limitation: the scenario of variation of the ADEME report that penalizes the ground wind and the ground solar (assuming that its environmental impact reduces its acceptance and by both complicates its installation) significantly increases the wind and, above all, the solar on the roof. As a result, the optimized system has a solar wind ratio 2/1, similar to the Spanish, and it is only 7% more expensive.
A final conclusion of the study is that, in order for the 100% renewable system to be technically functional, all controllable renewable energy and storage installations (including most importantly all hydro plants) must be dedicated to compensate renewable generation fluctuations. This will require substantially higher degrees of supervision, control and regulation in energy markets, which will thus need to commit to technical objectives rather than to the current profit optimization. This change of paradigm will be easier in France, were the control of all segments of the electric system remains largely in public hands.