Hola, amigos y amigas.  I write to you from Spain.  I’m here courtesy of the Catalan government, who brought me in to explain the California solar market to local solar companies. 

Why does Spain care about California?  Spanish solar companies are going through a really difficult time right now.  Briefly, the story goes like this.  The country established a standard offer contract (aka feed-in tariff) for solar at a very lucrative level, resulting in somewhere around 1000% growth over the previous year.  Upwards of 3 GW of photovoltaics were installed in 2008, instead of the 300 MW they were expecting.  The Spanish government, concerned about the cost, shut the program down, then capped the 2009 program at 500 MW–with much of that effectively filled by carryover from projects begun last year.  New applications end up in a queue, and there’s not much activity in the way of new project development.  I spoke with one company that did 100 million euros in revenue last year.  This year, they are down to 5 employees.  It’s really sad.  Hence, Spain’s interest in learning about new markets.

On a happier note, I took a side trip to Sanlucar la Mayor, near Sevilla, to tour Abengoa’s big solar facility.  Holy moly.  Muy impressive. 

I’ve posted some pictures here

Most of what you see are power towers.  This is a solar thermal electric technology that uses a field of heliostats (mirrors) to focus the sun’s rays on a receiver, heat water, produce steam, spin a turbine, and thereby make electricity.  It’s a promising technology in that it can achieve significantly higher temperatures than parabolic troughs (which, as they are less photogenic, don’t feature as prominently in the photoset, though the site has 50 MW essentially installed, and another 150 MW more due to come online soon) and higher temperatures mean lower costs.

What’s harder to see but in many ways more important is the energy storage technologies on site.  The towers currently are capable of storing steam for a half hour—reducing power fluctuations due to weather conditions.  But even more exciting is that one of the parabolic trough lines has a molten salt storage system, which provides for upwards of 6 hours of storage.  As intermittency and non-dispatchability are significant challenges when it comes to increasing our reliance on renewables, this is a very big deal.  I walked away feeling very impressed—and comforted—by Abengoa’s commitment to R&D.  Unless you think clean coal is going to save us–and I don’t–this represents real hope in the fight against global warming.

Also, the tapas are fantastic.  The pimentos de padron and sardines and jamon iberico…gluttony has its own rewards.