I have been in Spain for the past few days, longer than I had planned because of the restriction on air travel. I have met many other people stranded in the same way and have been struck by their ingenuity in finding ways to get home.
In Madrid, I visited the Sorolla museum, in the home of the impressionist artist of the same name. Many of the paintings are of members of his family and of places where he spent some of his life. This gives the museum a personal character which adds to enjoyment of the art itself.
I also visited the Cortes, the lower house of Parliament. Deputies sit on red seats while the Ministers sit on blue ones. The Spanish political system is quite confrontational and a lot of time and energy is now being devoted to historical memory issues deriving from the Civil War of the 1930s, which is surprising when there are so many other pressing issues, notably an unemployment rate of 20%.
The metro system in Madrid is marvellously efficient and clean, and a pleasure to use.
I attended a conference on renewable energy sponsored by the Irish Embassy and the Spanish /Irish business Network. The event was opened by the Irish Ambassador, Justin Harman.
The speeches were very informative. I was particularly impressed by that of Philip Clarke, of ESB International (the consultancy arm of the Irish electricity company).
He said that the goal of getting all our energy from renewable sources was attainable. If electric cars became commercial they would recharge their batteries at night when electricity would be capable of being produced at little or no cost. Wind blows just as much at night as during the day so electric cars would contribute to the viability of wind turbines by providing a market for their product, which might otherwise go to waste. The really expensive electricity was that produced at times of peak use in the mornings and evenings, not at night.
He argued strongly for a common EU Energy policy, which promoted competition and the sale of electricity between countries. Otherwise Philip Clarke feared that electricity generation in Europe would soon be the hands of a few big companies from a few big countries.
He argued for a policy that would encourage households to generate their own electricity by solar panels and even small windmills. This policy would only reach its potential if the householder could sell any surplus electricity, when there was a lot of sunshine or wind in the locality, into a grid which could then transport it to other places in Europe ,where there was a demand for electricity at that particular time.
Philip Clarke has contributed greatly to the improvement of electricity distribution in Spain as part of his work with the ESB and he is based in Bilbao.
Spain is a world leader in wind energy, and Ireland learn a lot from Spain about how to make things happen, and how to turn good ideas quickly into projects that actually work.