Spain generates enough renewable energy to power the country for a complete workday, while industry leaders gather in Atlanta to map out ways to keep the grid reliable.
Nine hours of clean, renewable electricity
Tuesday, May 16th was a lovely day across all of Spain. Orange trees were blossoming, the sun was bright but not too hot. As the sun started to set, the wind kicked up a bit, bringing a refreshing evening breeze, setting the stage for Spaniards to celebrate a beautiful day with pitchers of sangria.
At utility companies across the country, there was a different reason to celebrate. From 10 a.m. through 7 p.m. of that day, the amount of electricity generated by renewable energy on the Iberian Peninsula exceeded total demand for the country. For nine hours, wind, hydro, solar and nuclear produced enough energy to run the fourth largest European economy. (1)
Although the country has achieved the 100% goal in the past, it has never sustained the mark for such an extended period.
The feat was made possible by the day’s perfect weather—allowing solar panels to reach peak efficiency even as the moderate temperatures kept people away from their air conditioners. Spain’s robust investment in wind power paid off in the evening as the breeze made up for solar’s fading contribution.
Making the event even more noteworthy, three of the country’s seven nuclear reactors were off-line for maintenance. And although the demand for energy was lower because of the pleasant weather, the normal industrial and manufacturing energy requirements of a standard workday were all in place.
Reaching 100% did not mean that fossil fuel generation ceased in the country. The slow and expensive startup and shutdown process for such facilities makes that impractical. Instead, the excess energy was traded with neighboring countries or saved for nighttime using Spain’s extensive network of pumped hydro energy storage.
The achievement highlights Spain’s position as one of Europe’s clean energy leaders, with an aggressive goal of reaching 74% renewable energy by 2030 (2). In some parts of the country such as the sparsely populated Teruel region, as much as 10% of the landscape may host panels by that date.
Spain plans to install another 15 gigawatts of solar and five gigawatts of wind power infrastructure over the next three years, and analysts expect to see these types of energy events occur more often.
Energy resilience at the top of the agenda at RE+ Southeast
The Southeast’s renewable energy community gathered in Atlanta last week for the 2023 RE+ Southeast conference. It was the region’s first gathering since the Inflation Reduction Act was signed in August of 2022, and attendees were eager to discuss how solar and other renewables are transforming the region’s economy.
But the topic that loomed over nearly every event was resilience. More and more, individuals, utilities and governments are focusing on ways in which they can ensure there’ is easy access to steady and dependable energy. At the same time, dependable energy has become a rare commodity.
December 2022’s Winter Storm Eliot highlighted the problem. Arctic conditions hit a large swath of the Southeast as families were getting on the road for the holidays. The event served as an example of how poorly equipped the region is for the weather extremes that have become common as climate change takes hold.
During the storm, energy demand surged as residents struggled to warm their homes even as single-digit temperatures caused machinery and gas lines at power generating plants to seize up and fail. The result was rolling blackouts across multiple states and utilities, including a first-ever round from the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Even with the intentional blackouts, many regions suffered multi-day outages throughout the cold snap, which coincided with the Christmas holiday. At least 72 people died during the storm across 13 states.(1)
Whether it was through additional energy generation using renewables, new technologies and techniques for energy storage or hardening the transmission grid, finding new ways to cut down on outages and shorten the ones that do happen was on the top of many event attendees’ minds.
In a panel specifically about resilience, Simon Mahan, executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association said the solution was “Diversification, diversification, diversification!”
Mahan went on to elaborate that Southern energy providers needed to focus on generating with diverse fuels including wind, solar, hydro and other traditional energy sources, but also said that there should be more emphasis on diverse transmission channels. Finally, the tools to generate energy should be based in more diverse geographic areas, making it less likely that a single storm could shut down so many plants.
But not all conversations around resilience were regionwide. In a discussion on developing a diverse workforce in renewables, Karen Soares of the HBCU Community Development Action Committee talked about Atlanta University Center’s innovative solar-powered campus resilience center. She highlighted how the microgrid project will supply resilience not just for the historically Black colleges that make up the center, but for the surrounding low-income neighborhoods, as well.
The conversation on rooftop solar highlighted the technology’s ability to bring resilience to bear on a home-by-home basis with backup battery technology.
Even a discussion about electric school buses turned to the possibility of using those vehicles’ substantial batteries to backstop the faltering energy grid during summer months, when the buses are typically idle and hot southern summer days cause spikes in demand.
Miles Davis was at his creative peak when he released the groundbreaking album Sketches of Spain. Even though the Spanish word “Solea” refers to a specific type of flamenco, we’d still like to think it’s a reference to solar energy.