For months Spain has been sending more and more electricity to its neighboring countries - to all of them - in the midst of the energy crisis. Exports of energy from the electricity system last August accelerated their increase and set new record highs, surpassing the monthly records of the entire historical series of Red Eléctrica de España, which records international electricity exchanges since the beginning of 1990. Never before had so much electricity been sold abroad in any month in the more than three decades since official data has been available.
In August, the Spanish electricity system exported a total of 2,924 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity to the other countries with which there are connections (France, Portugal, Morocco and Andorra), a previously unknown level, driven by problems in fully guaranteeing supply in the French and Portuguese markets.
Last month Spain imported only 126 GWh in the whole month from its neighbors, a level also abnormally low. So the Spanish export balance also set an all-time record of 2,798 GWh in August, according to the records of Red Eléctrica de España (REE), the national electricity system operator and manager of the high-voltage transmission grids.
Interconnection, at the limit
France is being forced to buy electricity from all the countries with which it is interconnected due to the shutdown of more than half of its nuclear plants because of corrosion problems and the danger of overheating (32 of the 56 reactors in the French market are not operating). In August, French purchases from Spain set a record of 1,484 GWh and so did the net import balance of 1,451 GWh.
According to REE data, in August, the interconnections between the two countries through the Pyrenees were pushed to the limit, operating at maximum capacity for 99.3% of the hours of the entire month to send electricity to the French market.
Spain is also increasing its electricity exports to Portugal, reaching up to a quarter of the electricity demand of the Portuguese market. Portugal, a country highly dependent on the output of its hydroelectric power plants, is suffering from the effects of the drought and is resorting to buying electricity from the Spanish market to guarantee supply. In August exports to Portugal reached 1,122 GWh (with an export balance of 1,044 GWh), but in some months of this year higher levels have been reached and the record was set in February with purchases of 1,435 GWh (a net balance of 1,373 GWh).
Spain managed to reduce its electricity consumption by 1.2% last month (with a fall of 3.8% if the effect of different weather and labor conditions between years is discounted) in the first month of application of the Government's initial package of savings measures, which includes turning off shop windows after 22.00 hours or regulating the thermostat in public buildings and offices.
In recent months, Spanish electricity companies have been increasing the use of their gas-fired power stations to produce electricity - so far this year it has doubled - due to the fall in hydroelectric generation as a result of the drought, the lower contribution of renewables, and to cover the increased exports of electricity to France due to the stoppage of more than half of its nuclear power stations and also to Portugal due to the drought.
The extra demand required by the French and Portuguese markets is being covered with a higher production of combined cycle plants (the plants that burn gas to produce), and the Government assumes that this additional use of gas to cover the energy needs of neighboring countries in a crisis situation can be discounted from the calculation of the 7% gas savings committed to Brussels, as reported by El Periódico de España. But the European Commission is leaving the Spanish plan up in the air for the moment and does not consider it certain that the Executive will be able to use this exception until it specifies how to articulate the obligatory saving measures in the event that a state of alert is declared in the EU.
The Iberian exception
The record of electricity exports to France is reducing the positive impact of the Iberian exception, the mechanism with which Spain and Portugal apply a cap on the price of gas used to produce electricity - which has reached record highs in recent months due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine - in order to lower the electricity bill. French consumers benefit from the lower price registered in the Spanish electricity market, but they do not pay the compensation that Spanish and Portuguese customers pay to electricity companies with gas-fired plants to cover their real costs and not to produce at a loss.
The PP stresses that the Iberian exception is serving to subsidize the electricity exported to France (more than 500 million since it came into force in June, according to its calculations) and to trigger gas imports both from Russia and from France itself to cover the extra demand of the gas plants to produce electricity.
The Government defends that the Iberian exception works, underlining that in the three months that the Iberian exception has been in place - it came into force last June 15 - Spanish consumers have saved 2,300 million euros by managing to contain the price of the wholesale electricity market, even with the compensation paid to the gas plants.