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Here Comes the Sun

Oh dear, I seem to be rather weather-obsessed, don't I? I blame my mother, who being a typical Englishwoman, is never happier than when discussing what sort of wind is blowing, where it's coming from, and whether there's going to be a frost tomorrow morning. The weather forecasts on TV and radio are treated with almost the same reverence as the Queen's speech. Noone is allowed to speak while it's on, or you get shushed to within an inch of your life. I still get the full local meteorological low-down over the phone when I call her. Here in Andalucia, there's one aspect of the weather that we can almost always rely on: sunshine. Right now, in the winter, we have beautiful pure-blue-sky days, like today; 'regular' days, like yesterday, with some sun and some cloud; and real stinkers, like those weeks and weeks of endless rain, grey skies and general gloom. But for a large part of the year, we have days and days of sun, sun, sun. You don't have to worry about what it's going to be like, because you know - sunny. OK, I know I am stating the obvious for many of you, but for those who aren't lucky enough to live here in Andalucia, it is incredibly sunny for much of the year, with a minimum average of six hours daily in January, going up to 11 hours in July. When we go back to England, to visit family, my (Andalucian) husband blanches visibly at the sight of overcast skies, thick clouds and not even a glimpse of the yellow orb for weeks on end - and that's in July. He could never, ever live there. So it seems entirely logical, if a little belated, to read that yet another massive solar power plant is going to be built in Andalucia. Torresol's 100-megawatt Valle 1 and Valle 2 will be located in San Juan del Valle in Cadiz province, with the project getting under way next month and taking two years to complete. The new plants will create 3,200 jobs, which is great news for the local economy, and eventually produce enough electricity to supply 80,000 homes, while saving 90,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, which is great news for the environment. The whole project will cost over 70 million euros, and, unlike other solar power plants, will use (or rather test) new technology to enable it to produce electricity at night, and when there isn't much sunlight. Don't expect me to explain the technicalities of this, as science is not my strong point. But I did read somewhere that each panel has an optical sensor to ensure that it follows the sun´s movements, to obtain the maximum benefit. If you've read this far, then you may well have already heard about the extraordinary solar power plant which opened nearly two years ago just outside Seville, in Sanlucar la Mayor. The Solucar PS10 plant has made the news all over the world, literally, as the first commercial solar power tower, while is quite something when you think what a relative current affairs and cutting-edge technology backwater south-western Andalucia is. It makes enough power (11 megawatts) to power 5,500 homes, and by 2013 this will increase to 180,000 homes (300MW). I went to visit it for an article, and was taken up the massive tower whose extraordinary, other-worldly blinding light you can see from the Huelva motorway. It is very James Bond, with all these massive mirrors laid out in a rather pretty arrangement in a field. Since I was there, another two such towers have gone into operation at the same site. The most exciting plan I have heard is for a 400-billion-euro plant in the Sahara Desert, the size of Wales, to provide 15% of Europe's power. I get a warm feeling when I read about such plans, because I think they are such indisputably good news. We have all this sunshine, all this free, renewable energy, so why not use it? Why not harvest it to good effect, helping us power our washing machines and fridges, reducing our dependency on ever-decreasing fossil fuels? It seems a win-win situation to me. And of course we can each do our own bit for the environment too by putting solar panels on our rooves, to heat our hot water, and swimming pools if we're lucky enough to have one (no chlorine, please) - you can read more about sustainable energy sources in our Green Andalucia feature this month. I have to admit that I don't have any solar panels on my own house yet - I don't even have mains water - but do have plans to install them. Honestly. I will put my money where my mouth is. Will you?
Blog published on 1 February 2010