Wind farms programmed to supply 25% of Uruguay electricity grid

Feb 10, 2011 12:00 AM

Uruguay intends to develop as many wind farms as its electricity grid can support, effectively diversifying its energy supply beyond hydro-power and fossil fuels. At present, the country is in the process of installing 500MW of wind power projects.
Several experimental turbines are already operational Several experimental turbines are already operational. Ramon Mendez, director of energy at the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining, commented that Uruguay could generate 25-28% of its power from wind and biomass in 2015, nearly twice its 15% target. Uruguay has developed its hydroelectric resources to the full and is considering wind power to boost its power supplies. Last December, the government invited developers to submit proposals for a 150MW wind power auction.

National power company Usinas Y Transmisiones del Estado has revealed plans to develop 200MW of wind farms, which could be operational by 2015. One month later, three developers, including Spain’s Abengoa, were awarded contracts to sell wind power at rates of US$81.15-86.26.MWh, 40% below the rate charged at fuel oil and diesel oil thermal plants, according to Mendez. Such plants produced 39% of the country’s power, according to the most recent data from the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based intergovernmental research group. Mendez said the country must be careful not to install too much capacity and burden the power grid with an excess of wind energy.
On a blustery summer night, for example, the planned 500 megawatts of wind farms may, at peak moments, produce as much as 60% of the country’s electricity. When demand is low this surging supply may be a problem. “Wind generation is not controllable, you get what you’re given” he said.

Uruguay wants to wean itself off oil completely by 2013 by converting its existing thermoelectric power plants to liquefied natural gas and developing its renewable energy resources, Mendez said.
“The problem is we are dependent on the Niño-Niña climate pattern” a warming and cooling of the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean every five to eight years that can effect rainfall and our hydroelectric capacity. Two years ago on 2008 there were weeks when the country only had enough water in its reservoirs to operate 3% of its 1.6 GW of hydroelectric plants. And there’s little chance to expand Uruguay’s hydroelectricity resources. “We’ve exhausted all our main rivers,” he said. “There’s no room for anything larger than 10 megawatts” - Mendez.

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