As the leading generator of solar thermal electricity, Spain has also become the main reference for innovations and advances in the sector. This is the case with hybridisation, which involves combining solar power with another energy source to improve the efficiency of the process and smooth out the inherent intermittency of solar energy. If the other energy source is also renewable, as is the case with biomass, it also makes the system more sustainable and economical. Abantia and Comsa Emte understood this and have just laid the foundation stone of a solar-biomass plant in Les Borges Blanques in Lleida.
Currently, solar thermal power plants are being hybridised with natural gas, but Abantia and Comsa Emte will be the first to use biomass. They have commenced construction of the 22.5-MW facility, which (as long as similar projects such as that being developed by Sialsol and Solarlite in the province of Badajoz do not overtake them) will be "the world's first to combine solar thermal power with a biomass unit”, the companies announced in a recent press release. The Sialsol and Solarlite plant will make use of a month-balled biomass plant, interfacing it with a solar thermal electric facility that will generate steam directly in the solar field (a relatively new innovation in itself).
Alignment with demand curve key advantage
Valeriano Ruiz, President of Protermosolar (the Spanish Solar Thermal Electric Association), considers that solar thermal power needs to be "supplemented with a storable source, which makes the whole system manageable, therefore a solar-biomass hybrid is ideal".
Ruiz, who attended the ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the Les Borges Blanques plant, is a staunch defender of solar-biomass hybridisation, and believes that the new plant "may be the first step in that direction, so I am keen to review the results obtained. There are several key points, but the main thing is alignment with the demand curve which has two peaks [in Spain], one centred around noon and another at 20:00".
It is planned that the facility in Lleida will be completed at the end of 2012 and will enter service in January 2013. "Capturing sunlight during daylight hours using parabolic trough collectors, will be complemented overnight using the biomass facility; the main feedstock of which will be forest biomass, energy crops and agricultural waste," say the plant’s developers. The new facility will cost €153 million and is expected to generate 98,000 megawatt hours (MWh) per annum, equivalent to the average consumption of more than 27,000 homes, and create 30 direct and 150 indirect jobs.
Comsa Emte is also working with the city of Tremp (Lleida) and the Forest Technology Centre of Catalonia (CTFC) to conduct a pilot test of poplar cultivation in order to study the viability of using this species of tree as a fuel for biomass plants.
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