Aras de los Olmos (Valencia): Spain's first "100% renewable" village

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Aras de los Olmos (Valencia): Spain's first

Aras de los Olmos (Valencia): Spain's first "100% renewable" village


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Thanks to a biogas plant, this town, 110 km from Valencia, has earned the label of a sustainable town, which also takes advantage of solar, wind and hydraulic energy.

The aim is to achieve a 24 hour, 365 days a year supply without relying on the electricity grid. This is the objective of Aras de los Olmos, with just under 400 inhabitants located in the region of Los Serranos, which in 2016 launched, in collaboration with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia and other organisations, this sustainable project with the aim of no longer depending on external sources of energy and supplying itself with 100% renewable energy.

With this project, the town hopes to respond to two objectives. The first is to address the demographic challenge facing many inland rural areas in Spain by generating interest and opportunities in the territory. The second (and main problem for the inhabitants), the project aims to put an end to the usual power cuts when there are heavy rains or when the village is full of people in summer.

It should be remembered that in the previous article we learned that 75% of the country's population lives in coastal areas, so the rise in sea level due to climate change would be devastating.

The project has the support of the Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica y el Reto Demográfico, which has allocated 456,000 euros through the Grants to Local Entities of the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (IDAE). However, the project has risen to four million euros, as it includes other actions in more towns in the area. The sum is completed by contributions from European funds and other subsidies from the central and regional governments.

How will the village be supplied?

The small Valencian town will have four different sources of energy for self-sufficiency. Two of them are impossible to control, such as wind and solar photovoltaic, as they depend on weather conditions for their operation and not on human will. That is why the other two sources, hydropower and biogas, are necessary.

In the first instance, Aras de los Olmos will place solar photovoltaic energy as the mainstay of electricity generation. To this end, it will have a solar park that will be one of the main engines generating electricity. The reason, explains the mayor, Rafael Giménez in statements to El Periódico, is the proven safety and effectiveness of this technology. This is made possible by the fact that the town is surrounded by a large area of unused land.

In addition, the town stands out for offering advice to its residents on how the electricity bill works and on how to contract it to help them make savings.

Secondly, the other major source is wind energy. The town has a distributor of this type of energy, the ACS Group, which already has a photovoltaic park that can be seen from Aras de los Olmos itself, which supplies the nearby farms and agricultural areas. However, the company will not be involved in the creation of the generator that is to power the village.

Although not actively involved in the project, the ACS Group will serve as a guarantor in the construction of the generator, a guarantee of security for the project.

To complete the supply on days when the wind does not blow enough or when there are storms or long days without sun, the project has two other sources of energy whose function will be to complement and "cover the peaks of demand", explains Carlos Roldán, professor of Electrical Engineering at the UPV and designer and director of the project.

Thus, it is intended to make use of hydraulic energy thanks to the waterfalls of the Arcos river that are close to the town. To this end, a micro-hydraulic plant will be built with a capacity to manage two thousand litres of water, which will be transported thanks to a system of pipes up to 800 metres further up the mountain, which will be activated by the energy generated from the other sources. Once upstream, the water would be dropped back downstream and the hydraulic energy generated would be harnessed.

Finally, the most experimental phase of the project, a biogas plant that aims to provide an answer to the problem of managing slurry and other livestock waste, another of the problems faced by the people of the village and the surrounding area, as well as generating electricity. Although the infrastructure was initially planned to be ready for the period 2020-2021, it is expected that it may have been delayed until the period 2025-2026.

The Aras de los Olmos plant will be part of the international research project MICRO4BIOGAS which aims to improve the knowledge on biogas production.

The 925.15 m3 plant, which has a budget (the international project) of 5.7 million euros, will be operated by different experts from all over the world and coordinated by the research centre I2SysBio, associated with the UPV-CSIC, headed by Manuel Porcar. He stresses that the aim is to obtain a biogas "of higher quality, which is produced more quickly, and which is more robust", through the selection and mixture of different microorganisms, he explained to El País.

Savings of 1,200 tons of CO2 emissions

The project is divided into two phases: during the first, the facilities necessary to exploit the energy will be built; while during the second, Roldán explained to EFE, the most complicated part is the "coordination of the different sources" with which Aras de los Olmos intends to supply itself with electricity. The result of the project is expected to be the saving of 1,200 tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere. When both phases have been completed, the process of disconnection from the electricity grid will begin, although as long as they continue to be part of it, they will sell the surplus of their photovoltaic electricity production.

In short, this is an ambitious and pioneering project that represents a further step towards achieving the European target of zero emissions by 2050. In Spain, there is already a locality that has proposed something similar. It is the island of El Hierro, in the Canary Islands, which in 2018 was supplied solely by renewable energies for 18 days thanks to the use of wind energy generated by wind and hydroelectric energy generated by pumping stagnant water with the help of the Corona del Viento hydroelectric power station. However, although this is an idea that could be useful, its effectiveness in a large city would be more complicated as more hectares of land would be needed to produce the enormous amount of energy that a large city such as Barcelona, Valencia or Madrid needs.

Sources:

Photography: Ayuntamiento de Aras de los Olmos.

  • CCEEA
  • El País
  • La Vanguardia
  • Energías Renovables
  • Ayuntamiento de Aras de los Olmos
  • El Periódico de la Energía
  • Eldiario.es

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