Europe’s largest pumped-storage power plant was inaugurated this October in the Júcar River basin in Spain’s eastern province of Valencia as Spanish utility Iberdrola commissioned the final seven-year-long, 1.7-GW phase of the La Muela project.
The La Muela pumped storage project has since 1989 stored energy by pumping water from the Júcar River to an artificial upper reservoir at a height of 500 meters (Figure 5). The €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) Cortes-La Muela expansion begun in 2006 doubled the capacity of the existing facility, though as Jose Navarro Torrijos, a senior industrial engineer at Iberdrola noted, the ambitious project was not without difficulties in design and construction. The project entailed installation of four Alstom-supplied generator motors of 240 MVA/600 rpm, and a 840-m long penstock at a 45-degree angle to improve performance—all which proved to be an experience akin to “completing a Master’s in hands-on knowledge of hydraulic technologies,” Torrijos said.
Capable of generating about 5,000 GWh per year, the project will prove essential for Spain, whose renewable power production share jumped from 13% in 2007 to 27% in 2012. The country has faced several challenges integrating the large amount of renewables into real-time dispatch of its power generation to meet power demand, and plans foresee the share of renewables to reach 38% in the future. A recent government report of renewable energy plans calls for the installation to increase from the current 5,350 MW of pumped-storage capacity to 6,300 MW by 2015 and 8,800 MW by 2020. A number of projects are already in the pipeline, including Endesa’s Moralets II project, a 400-MW expansion of the existing Moralets pumped storage project on the Noguera Ribagorzana River in northeastern Spain that is expected to come online in 2014. Iberdrola is spearheading another 728-MW project in northwestern Spain using the existing San Estaban reservior as the lower reservoir.
Some observers point out, however, that the outlook for Spain’s renewables remains murky after a 2010 policy turnaround that sought to freeze unsustainable annual growth of the feed-in-tariff deficits, which had built up to a staggering $35 billion. In September, Spain’s government admitted that despite power price increases and ongoing reforms, tariff deficits this year alone had soared to about $4 billion.
—Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)