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Spain has got three-quarters of its power from clean sources in 2023

A matador in Spain receiving solar, renewable energy
Graphic: Sean Creighton/The Progress Playbook

The Spanish energy revolution is well underway, with some major milestones hit in 2023.

In the first 11 months of the year, clean sources comprised three-quarters of the country’s electricity mix, according to data collated by Ember. The average share of renewables surged to 52.6% – from 42.2% in 2022 – while nuclear’s contribution edged up to 22%.

That’s a vastly different picture from the turn of the century, when coal accounted for 35.8% of Spanish power output. The dirtiest fossil fuel has been largely phased out of the mix, with its share now sitting below 2%.

In the early days of the shift to cleaner technologies, gas displaced coal. Now, solar and wind are displacing that transition fuel.

Renewed momentum: Spain’s transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables has not been smooth sailing. Tweaks to renewable subsidies in the 2010s, and the introduction of a back-up toll on behind-the-meter solar PV in 2015, largely halted renewables deployments for years.

So while the share of renewables roughly doubled between 2000 and 2012, it then remained stagnant until 2018.

Since then, however, momentum has returned to the market thanks in part to steep declines in the cost of solar and wind technology, and more accommodating state policies.

The market is booming:

  • Wind and solar capacity increased from 28 gigawatts (GW) in 2018 to over 54GW in 2022.
  • Wind is now the country’s single-biggest electricity source. In November 2023, wind farms delivered 34.5% of Spain’s electricity requirements.
  • On November 3, renewables reached a record 73.3% share of the mix, with wind alone accounting for over 50% of output, according to data from Red Eléctrica de España, Spain’s system operator.

A bigger role for solar: According to the country’s 2030 targets, renewables will account for 81.2% of power output, and almost 50% of total final energy consumption (a metric that includes heating, industrial processes and transportation, among other things) by the end of the decade.

To meet these ambitious targets, Spain plans to ramp up its investments in renewables, shut its two remaining coal power plants by 2027, and further reduce the role of gas.

Per state plans, the country will have 81GW of solar, 59GW of onshore wind, 17GW of hydro, bioenergy and other renewables, and 3GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030.

To accommodate the rising penetration of intermittent technologies, Spain aims to more than triple its storage capacity, from 6.4 GW today to 22GW by 2030.

An island in the EU’s power market: Aside from being further ahead in the adoption of solar and wind technologies, Spain and Portugal are largely isolated from the rest of Europe, as far as their electricity networks go.

That’s led to some favourable outcomes amid the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Over the past 18 months, power prices have been lower and less volatile on the Iberian Peninsula, compared to other parts of Europe.

In November, for instance, Spanish power prices averaged around €60/MWh — substantially below prices in France, Germany and Italy.

Yes, but: Fresh hurdles loom for renewable energy developers, despite the government’s ambitions.

Permitting reforms that made it easier to get solar and wind projects up and running have led to a boom in project proposals, but this has overwhelmed regulators and resulted in rushed application processing.

That’s fuelling a backlash from the likes of environmental and citizen organisations, who oppose exemptions of some renewable projects from environmental impact studies and citizen participation.

The country will also need to upgrade its power grid to fully integrate the long pipeline of clean energy projects.

Spain plans to invest €53 billion in its transmission and distribution networks, but that programme could be complicated by tedious land-use applications and other red tape.

The funding for this expansion will, in part, come from EU budgets, which should at least partially shield electricity consumers from infrastructure-related cost increases.

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