Portada /Interview

In a few years we will have the cheapest plants in operation

Miguel Domingo, Environment and Solar Director at SENER (on the left)  and Borja Zárraga, Power, Oil & Gas Business Manager at SENER (on the right).

Miguel Domingo, Environment and Solar Director at SENER (on the left) and Borja Zárraga, Power, Oil & Gas Business Manager at SENER (on the right).

What are SENER’s activities in the solar thermal field? What are we, a turnkey contractor?

Borja Zárraga: In fundamental terms, SENER performs the turnkey engineering and construction of solar thermal plants. That is our logical place. And we help the client to reach an optimal solution, since we can advise on the configuration of the project from the outset, including selecting the site.

Miguel Domingo: We think that we must lead on the decisions that relate to technology, and there are many, both in engineering and construction and in commissioning. From there, we are able to adapt to many possibilities. We like to be present in projects that are realistic and can succeed.

What is your assessment of the years of progress in solar thermal power?

M.D.: A very positive result: we have done well and the market is behind us. In addition, in a few years we will have the cheapest plants in operation. Now it seems that they receive many incentives - and I think incentives should be as little as possible, but these contracts are structured with 15- or 20-year funding and from year 20, the facilities will continue to operate without incentives. At that time, since the fuel is free, all you have to do is perform operation and maintenance activities. There are plants in the US that work very well after 30 years.

What is SENER doing to contribute to cost reduction?

M.D.: We perform daily analysis of about 70 parameters for all the plants in which we have been involved, which gives us critical information for increasing efficiency and reducing costs in terms of the next facilities, thereby obtaining a better balance for the business model.

B.Z.: We have achieved a significant reduction in the last 10 years because we have lowered the cost of facilities to less than half in comparison with when we started. But all projects are very different, so it is difficult to quantify.

Is there still room for technological development in both the tower and the parabolic trough?

M.D.: Yes, in both technologies. And we have many ongoing innovations in components, instrumentation, hybridization, processes, fluids... It is a path of steady improvement.

B.Z.: Our main R&D focus is achieving more efficient, more productive, better operable plants... And that is not a big development but rather a lot of smaller details for which SENER’s experience in many successful jobs is essential. Having Gemasolar, for example, in our reference portfolio is fundamental.

What are SENER’s main areas of expansion in terms of solar power?

B.Z.: Within the countries belonging to the so-called solar belt - those with better irradiation - we are limited to those that have a program to encourage solar thermal power. We are now very focused on Morocco, with the NOORo I, NOORo II and NOORo III solar plants, and in South Africa, where we are participating in Bokpoort, Kathu and Ilanga and have offered a 100-MW tower plant to ESKOM. We closely monitor other countries such as Chile, the Gulf Cooperation Council area and Australia, which may have an imminent takeoff in solar thermal power. Other interesting countries are China and India, although their renewable energy markets still need to mature.

Can solar power be a major source of energy in the world?

M.D.: Solar thermal power will not be decisive in the mix of renewable energies, but it will matter in countries with good levels of irradiation and a need for manageable power. Although investment has slowed down due to the economic crisis and the failure of some plants, we are watching its evolution with much hope.

B.Z.: Renewable sources are the future; in fact, we will not get to Peak Oil because there will be increasingly more clean energy. And if the current drop in oil prices rebounds, non-polluting sources will be even more competitive. Oil will remain necessary through the petrochemical industry, but consumption will be much more rational. So the future will go hand in hand with renewable energy. We will not be everywhere, but we will be where we have technology, such as solar power.

Was there at any point any sense of how present solar thermal activity would be within the Group?

B.Z.: The solar thermal industry has been a success for SENER, due partly to timing and partly to merit. SENER took advantage of the opportunity presented by society, but there were a number of accurate steps and an appropriate business strategy. I think that, from the beginning, we were able to see that there could be a certain market and we took some key strategic decisions related to the choice of technology: first with the parabolic trough and then the tower and, in any event, with storage, while others chose different configurations and technologies. And history has proven us right.

What is SENER’s strategy to preserve the leading position it holds today in the field of solar thermal power?

B.Z.: In solar thermal power, the measure of your success is the measure of your credibility. SENER aims to maintain the trust we have achieved in these years. We have enjoyed a successful story and we are working to keep it up by giving our best to our customers. Our strategy is to stay one-step ahead of the competition and the emerging needs.

M.D.: In this sense, NOOR III will be confirmation of tower technology, following the success of Gemasolar, which was a commercial 20-MW plant. Facilities such as NOORo III, with 150 MW, make more financial sense.


Borja Zárraga  Miguel Domingo

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