In Argentina, wind energy represents around 8% of total electricity generation. Its potential could be greater, industry experts agree, but the lack of transportation to connect wind farms with consumption centers has limited its growth in recent years.
Spain's Ramón Fiestas Hummler is the director of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), an international association that represents generating companies around the world. In a visit to Argentina, the energy analyst praised the country's natural resources, but warned that without a stable economy that allows companies to obtain financing, the sector's growth will continue to be restricted.
According to data from the Argentine Wind Energy Chamber (CEA), building a wind farm in the country costs around US$1.5 million per megawatt (MW). Currently, there are 3405 MW of installed wind power capacity in the country, out of a total of 43,383 MW. "The average price of wind generation is US$60 per MWh, when the average selling price of electricity in the system is US$75?, says Fiestas Hummler, in response to criticism that renewable energy is expensive.
-How do you see the wind energy sector currently in Argentina?
-Right now we see that there are green shoots, there is an important interest on the part of investors to continue developing wind projects, because they are the most efficient, energetically speaking. But there is a need to generate market conditions that can make the financing and development of these projects viable.
-What conditions are needed?
-Normalize the playing field in the electricity market so that renewables can enter. Facilitate private sector investments in transmission networks, because that is part of normalizing the functioning of the electricity market. There cannot be a level playing field if some of the most efficient technologies cannot enter the market because there is no transmission. These roads must be prepared so that wind power can demonstrate all the efficiency and competitiveness potential it has behind it. This is enormously important and it is a task that the next government will have to carry out if it wants to modernize the electricity system and attract investment.
-One of the concerns about wind energy is how wind turbines are recycled. What alternatives are there for the future?
-Fiberglass is recycled. There are very interesting recycling projects in Mexico, such as one that turns fiberglass blades into bus stops. Steel is as recyclable as possible.
-In Spain, for example, what was done with the wind turbines that were left in disuse?
-They are recycled. The steel is used and recycled again. The blades are reused. The fiberglass is reused. There is a virtuous circle and a circular economy in the process of manufacturing, using and dismantling wind farms.
-What is the average life span of a wind turbine?
-A wind turbine lasts more than 20 years. But a wind turbine does not leave the market because it has become old and obsolete; it is replaced with a more efficient one. The owner of a wind project replaces the turbines with larger, more modern ones and fewer units. Technological development has led to an exponential increase in the installed power per turbine unit. When the turbines arrived in Argentina, the machines were 2 MW each, which was a lot. Now, the machines are between 5 and 6 MW. One machine unit practically doubles the installed capacity of the previous ones.
-How are the average prices of wind energy compared to other ways of generating electricity?
-The cheapest energy is wind power. The cheapest MWh sale price that has been achieved in the whole world has been given by an electric energy auction in Mexico, similar to those of Renovar in Argentina, with less than US$18 per MWh. How is this achieved? With good financial conditions and with predictability and price stability. In Argentina, financing conditions are expensive, because the country risk undoubtedly makes project financing more expensive. This means that the weight of project financing in the price of energy is enormous. It is the most expensive item in the development of a wind farm. If you have more expensive financing conditions than in another country, the same investment will cost you much more. Not because the turbine costs more, but because it costs more to finance the turbine.
-Another criticism of renewable energies is their intermittency. Do you think that this will be solved at some point with batteries?
-Intermittency is not intermittency, it is variability. Because renewable energies do not start and stop. That would be intermittency. What renewable energies do is to raise and lower the load in a variable way. But there is variable load, not intermittent load. The variability can be perfectly managed with operating procedures of the electrical systems that make compensate that rise and fall with other generation sources. And then come the batteries. In the United States and Chile there are storage battery banks, especially in those systems that do not have water and cannot do so, such as Uruguay, which uses the reservoir as a large compensation battery.
-At some point can you think of a solution so that 100% of the country has, for example, solar and wind energy?
-It is possible if interconnections are intensified and there is regional integration with transmission lines between countries. Uruguay exports much more than it imports, because there are many times when it has wind power production surpluses and exports them to Argentina and Brazil. It is possible to have 100% renewable electricity systems with an interconnection that allows the electricity system to function as a whole with neighboring countries. On the other hand, in Mexico you already have projects that have incorporated batteries. It is a technology that is beginning to be developed, but I insist that there are electric system management solutions before reaching the batteries. There are still intermediate paths that allow flexible management of the electric system, without the need for additional investments.