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Argentina Looks to Wind for the Answer to its Energy Woes

In 2004, Argentina received a wake up call. The Latin American nation experienced a deep energy crisis as a result of a shortage in natural gas caused by the demand for energy skyrocketing and outstripping supply. Since then the country has made a conscious effort to diversify its energy sources, with wind power attracting particular attention.

The country's chamber of renewable energy (CADER) believes Argentina has a huge wind power potential. This is supported by a report by the National University of Comahue that said the country’s Patagonia region could theoretically support as much as 200 GW of wind power.  

But Argentina is currently taking advantage of a mere 2 percent of this potential.

According to a report in El Cronista Comercial, there are already 32.2 MW of wind power capacity installed in the country. This includes the Arauco wind park, which is comprised of twelve 2.1-MW wind turbines. Late last year, IMPSA won a contract to double its capacity to 50 MW. 

The push for a more prominent use of wind energy could gather momentum thanks to new legislation introduced, which if properly enforced could see the use of renewable energy increase to 8 percent by 2016.

Currently, 50 percent of Argentina’s renewable energy is derived from wind power but the country’s Energy Secretariat expects it to cover the energy needs of a million people by 2025.

Argentina is seen as an ideal location for wind farms. According to CADER, nearly 70 percent of its territory is covered with winds with an annual average speed, measured at 50 metres above ground level, exceeding 6 metres/second (m/s).

In Central and Southern Patagonia the speeds can reach on average 9 m/s and up to 12 m/s.

Other benefits of relying more heavily on wind power include a diversification of energy sources, less dependency on fossil fuels and greater stabilization of energy prices, which in the long run would benefit the economy as a whole.

The use of wind energy also helps to create new high-quality jobs and promotes the development of more rural regional economies through the construction of wind farms outside of urban areas.

Argentina has long recognized the benefits of diversifying its energy dependency. In its Patagonia region, between the mid-1990s and early 2000s it built several wind farms, which are connected to the grid and run by local energy cooperatives.

The Patagonia region has become particularly prominent when it comes to wind power development because of the direction, speed and consistent nature of its winds.

In addition to its ability to harness wind power, Argentina is also known in the region as a manufacturer of the technology and equipment necessary for the construction of wind farms.

In the summer of 2010, the government launched a tender for projects totaling 754 MW, many of which were wind energy projects.

In total, 21 companies presented 51 projects, a clear sign of the growing interest in the renewable energy sector in the country. As a result of the various projects it is estimated that more than 7000 new jobs will be created and 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions avoided.

As well as Argentina’s future plans, there are already several projects operating or under construction.

One such project is the Vientos de la Patagonia wind farm, whose first 1.5 MW wind turbine is already operating. The wind farm, which is located 40 km north of Comodoro Rivadavia, is perceived as one of the country’s most significant wind power generators, with a total projected capacity of 60 MW.

Despite its many advantages, wind power still has disadvantages. Technicians have found it troublesome to store the power generated for use on days that the wind doesn’t blow. However, efforts have been made to combine wind farms with solar panels and hydrogen generators to counteract the intermittent nature of wind.

Yet the pros far outweigh the cons.

In six months a conventional wind turbine can generate the same amount of energy that would be utilized for its manufacture, operation, assembly and disassembly.

The evidence for an economy more dependent on wind power is there and it is now up to other countries in Latin America to follow in Argentina's wake.

J. Espinoza is editor of the Potencia eNewletter from Power Engineering International. 

The article was reprinted with permission from Power Engineering International as part of the PennWell Corporation Renewable Energy World Network and may not be reproduced without express written permission from the publisher.

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