Supporting the future of cogeneration in Spain

Neoelectra, a Spanish business group specialising in providing efficient energy solutions for industry, has extended its service agreement with Wärtsilä.

Neoelectra, a Spanish business group specialising in providing efficient energy solutions for industry, has extended its service agreement with Wärtsilä. Together, they are working to expand the role that cogeneration can play in the future of Spain’s power system.

Cogeneration is an efficient and cost-effective technology that simultaneously generates electricity and heat. The process is up to 40% more efficient than generating them separately. Cogeneration also supports the use of renewable energy and can save about 200 million tonnes of CO2 annually from being produced in Europe.

At present, cogeneration supplies 11% of electricity and 15% of heat across the continent, according to COGEN Europe, the European Association for the Promotion of Cogeneration. While Denmark, the Netherlands, and Finland lead the field, the number of cogeneration plants installed every year in Spain grew steadily from 1990 to 2010, and has since evolved and transformed according to new technology, new fuels, and legislation.

Neoelectra, one of Spain’s biggest independent producers of electrical and thermal energy, has recently signed a new long-term service agreement with Wärtsilä. While extending an advantageous partnership that began in 2004, they are also working together to expand the role that cogeneration can play in the country’s future.

A sign of trust

Since its founding in 2001, Neoelectra has grown in scale and now operates 14 industrial cogeneration plants across Spain, as well as power generation assets in Chile. Altogether, Neoelectra provides a non-stop capacity of 215,082 MWh year-round, supplying efficient energy solutions for a diverse variety of industries.

Last year, Neoelectra purchased the Abeinsa cogeneration plant in Almería, which has a capacity of 21.7 MW and consists of two Wärtsilä engines that generate an annual output of 170 GWh. There is also a pair of Wärtsilä engines at the Ecoenergía waste management facility in Navarra that help turn manure into bioslurry.

“Our most important criteria are the quality and standard of the engines, as well as support being given when we face a problem. The Wärtsilä service team are always on hand to solve issues quickly and ensure the reliability of the equipment. We are managing facilities that are operating nearly 8,000 hours per year,” says Antonio Cortés, CEO of Neoelectra.

While the new maintenance agreement renewal doesn't include any upgrades or improvements this time, the agreement is indicative of the nature of the relationship between the two parties, especially since the engines at Ecoenergia Navarra in Artajona have already amassed over 112,000 running hours.

“It's a signal of trust towards us, our expertise and the ‘sense of urgency’ our people show in their response. We’re happy to keep on supporting our valued customer’s business and take such a trusted workhorse into our custody for the next 10 years,” laughs Pekka Tolonen, Wärtsilä’s Energy Business Director for Europe.

Joseba Abascal, Contract Manager for Wärtsilä Energy says that Neoelctra also appreciates the stability and predictability of working with Wärtsilä. “They know they can rely on us to do what is necessary to keep the engines working smoothly,” Abascal says. “They have also come to realise that we worry about them and we try to always have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C that caters to their needs.”

Ambitious renewable targets

Spain has set several ambitious renewable targets over the years, positioning it as a vanguard country in terms of developing wind and solar power.

According to analysis from Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab, from January until the end of October 2020, the share of renewable generation in Spain increased to 46% - a 9.3% increase over the previous year’s 36.7%. Wind and solar account for two-thirds of this. 

“Wind and solar provide the bulk of renewable energy, and they are intermittent by nature. You can’t control the wind and sun, and there are times in the day and during the year when you have abundant output, and others when you don’t have enough, and this does not synchronize with the demand. Therefore, there is a need for balancing power. Cogeneration, which contributed 12% to the Spanish generation mix last year, is one of the best options available,” states Tolonen.

He adds that a power system must be reliable, cost efficient, and environmentally sound.

“While the optimum is achieved differently from a country to another, these three conditions constitute the trinity you must always consider What is clear is that cogeneration allows more space for wind and solar in the power system because of the flexibility,” emphasises Tolonen.

“You have to balance all these natural variations of wind and solar with something dispachable. Our technology is very well suited for that, thanks to its flexibility. The advantage of cogeneration is that the efficiency, or energy you get out of the fuel, is extremely high because you produce both the power and heat with it,” Tolonen explains.

Future-proof technologies

To increase its presence in the Spanish power system, Neoelectra’s CEO believes that Spain needs a revolution of the cogeneration portfolio, pointing out that there hasn’t been any real governmental legislation supporting cogeneration technology since 2012.

“We are trying to convince the government that cogeneration is essential and critical for the industrial network in Spain, and that it is aligned with sustainable growth, according to the EU’s directives in reducing emissions,” says Cortés.

Today, Neoelectra is active in reducing its greenhouse emissions, like CO2, NOx and SOx. Cortés says that the company is applying the best filters and technology, as well as working to integrate new engines, increase efficiency and use new greener fuels, like hydrogen, synthetic gases or biogases. “Wärtsilä is a big part of that,” he notes.

According to Tolonen, Wärtsilä engines are already prepared for these developments. “Wärtsilä engines can already run on a fuel mix that has a good amount of hydrogen in it. We can utilise biofuels and synthetic fuels instantly. It basically requires a software update and minor hardware changes in the existing plant. In the case of our engines, we are sitting on top of future-proof technologies that can adapt to cleaner fuels as soon as they become available,” he states.

“Wärtsilä looks at the continued partnership with Neoelectra with enthusiasm and respect,” says Tolonen. “We will keep developing together towards the future, where cogeneration becomes cleaner and a more recognised part of the power system, where it works hand-in-hand with wind and solar.”


Written by
Asa Butcher
Senior Editor at Spoon Agency