Spain is no stranger to the harnessing of renewable energies. It has hydro-electricity plants — only China and the US have built more dams — its wind power sector, like solar power, has received generous government subsidies.

A comparison

The new La Florida solar plant takes Spain's solar output to 432MW, which compares with the US output of 422MW. The plant, at Alvarado, Badajoz, in the west of the country, is a parabolic trough. With this method of collecting solar energy, sunlight is reflected off a parabolic mirror on to a fluid-filled tube. The heated liquid is then used to heat steam to run the turbines. The mirror rotates during the day to follow the sun's movement. The solar farm covers 550,000 square metres (the size of around 77 soccer pitches) and produces 50MW of power.

Protermosolar, the association that represents the solar energy sector, says that within a year another 600MW will have come on-stream and projects that by 2013 solar capacity will have reached 2,500MW.

Many renewables

The northern, though thinly populated, region of Navarra is already producing 75 per cent of its energy from a range of renewables, including wind, solar, hydro and biomass. Spain's windfarms now produce around 20,000MW of electricity and on one day in November they accounted for 53 per cent of demand.

Last year, solar energy met 2.8 per cent of demand out of a total of 12.9 per cent for all renewables.

In March, the government in Madrid announced a plan to increase the renewable share to 22.7 per cent by 2020, slightly ahead of EU targets.

Spain is now the fourth largest manufacturer of solar power technology in the world and both solar and wind power technology exports have become valuable earners. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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