We Can Be Better than Spain: Building a Green Economy

It’s a happy day in Spain today.  Sure, the whole World Cup was kind of a big deal.  But there’s something else:  Spain has now leapfrogged the United States as the biggest producer of solar power.

Spain has opened the world’s largest solar power station, meaning that it overtakes the US as the biggest solar generator in the world. The nation’s total solar power production is now equivalent to the output of a nuclear power station.

Spain is a world leader in renewable energies and has long been a producer of hydro-electricity (only China and the US have built more dams). It also has a highly developed wind power sector which, like solar power, has received generous government subsidies. (GuardianUK)

I’ll save you all the technical details that got me (as a huge nerd) interested in the story, but instead look at the economic and societal impacts.  In the end, rankings really don’t have much of a real meaning. I guess that it’s good for the Spanish national psyche, which after the 20% unemployment and the “socialist” government’s ill-advised austerity program could use a boost.  But, the greater issue is what is Spain doing better than us.  And here in California, we should be kicking Spain’s butt all on our own.

After all, we have all the inherent advantages (and many more) that Spain has.  The California economy is bigger than that of Spain.  The Spanish economy is roughly 1.46 trillion, ours is roughly 1.85 trillion. Spain has plenty of sun, we have plenty of sun.  Spain has a population that is concerned with the environment, as does California. (Though we’ll get some hard numbers with the Prop 23 question of AB32 repeal.)

So why is Spain now producing a nuclear power station’s worth while we’re still diterhing around the margins?  Well, there’s the obvious issue of our grid.  The upgrading of the grid was supposed to be one of the big projects emerging from the Recovery Act, and that’s happening as we speak. BUt, unfortunately, that’s still going to take a while.  The funding was cut down from the original bill, and we will still need plenty of time to really be able to manage the grid as well as we hope to in the future.  

We’ll also need to think about combining energy storage capacity with the new green energy.  You can start with flywheels and that sort of thing, but the big hope on that front is a grid that can tap into a whole network of batteries parked in the garage of every house. Like…say a fleet of electric cars that can be charged and discharged in times of high or low loads.

But the biggest failure on our part is that we just haven’t aimed high enough. We’ve been content to play around the edges, and our power companies haven’t vigorously pursued green power.  This is one of the reasons that the defeat of Prop 16 was so critical. Had PG&E won that measure, they would have been able to shut down competition and controlled all of the purchasing of power.  Instead, we can work through our elected representatives to bring more green power.

In the end, you don’t get to be the world’s leader by spouting platitudes. It’s nice to hear the Governor talk about green power, and for Meg Whitman to tut-tut the concept. But California needs a leader that will affirmatively drag our economy into the new green economy.  Years ago, they used to call Jerry Brown Governor Moonbeam.

Well, today, we need Governor Sun Ray or Wind Gust.  How’s about it Jerry?

10 thoughts on “We Can Be Better than Spain: Building a Green Economy”

  1. They’ve got high speed rail, same-sex marriage, and lots of solar and wind power.

    Sure, they’ve also got high unemployment, owing largely to their own housing bubble. But with HSR, renewable energy, and progressive social policies, they are poised to bounce back very strongly when recovery finally takes place.

  2. Put me down for using vehicle batteries for grid storage won’t work.

    There are a couple of problems, first of all that draining the batteries in people’s cars during peak power utilization (midafternoon) is going to annoy the crap out of the drivers when they can’t get in their cars to drive home from work because the batteries are flat.

    Second, charge cycles aren’t free. Every time you drain those battery packs you will shorten their lifetime. Again, this will annoy the drivers quite a bit.

    Third, the scaling problem. Parasitic losses and locality problems are going to eat up anything you might gain out of automotive distributed storage.

    Vanadium-redox flow batteries? Yes, that will work. In fact it already does.

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