The unprecedented acceleration of renewables in Spain, with 1,400 projects on the way, has a physical limit: the capacity of the electricity grid. This was warned a month and a half ago by the sector consultant Aurora Energy Research - "the electricity transmission system has not grown at a rate comparable to the rapid increase in renewables," it warned - and so warns the European Commission in its recent annual recommendations to Spain. "Grid capacity constraints limit further integration of renewables," reads the document, published last week.
The EU executive believes that more "investments in both grid infrastructure and storage are needed to integrate more renewable electricity". And it recognizes that the level of electricity interconnection with France (5.4%) is still "significantly below" the Community objectives for the EU-27: both for 2020 (a year in which it should have reached 10%, a chimera in the Iberian case) and for 2030 (15%, a target which, seven years ahead of schedule, it is already clear that it will be impossible to reach, even with the new Bay of Biscay cable, planned for 2027 or 2028).
At the same time, the technicians of the Community Executive take it for granted that the Government will raise its renewable power targets in its new Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) to synchronize it with the ever-increasing ambition of the Community objectives as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the Commission's own figures, Spain should aim to reach 67 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 35 GW of photovoltaic in 2030, compared to just over 30 and 23 at present, respectively.
The problem is not so much the demerit of the electricity grid, one of the best meshed and most modern among the large countries of the Old Continent, but the size of the tsunami of photovoltaic projects - and to a lesser extent, wind - that is about to arrive. Also the process of accelerated electrification - heat pumps, electric cars... - that will necessarily have to take place in the coming years to leave fossil fuels behind. It is an essential and unavoidable condition for the energy transition that both processes develop at the same time. But in order to bring them to a successful conclusion, an investment boost is needed in the infrastructures for evacuating and transporting protons and neutrons.
More informationRenewable projects "far exceed" the expected growth of the electricity grid in Spain, according to a study.
The renewed renewable ambition, which will be reflected in the draft update that the Spanish government will send to Brussels in June and which will certainly include a strong upward revision of the targets, also has a second brake beyond the grid: human capital. "The shortage of labor and skills in key sectors and professions for the ecological transition is creating bottlenecks," warns the EU executive in its latest batch of specific recommendations for Spain. High-quality training, which responds to the changing needs of the labor market, and the retraining of professionals who until now have been dedicated to other tasks should be, according to the European Commission, two "fundamental actions to reduce this shortage and promote inclusion and labor reallocation".
Fewer fossil fuel subsidies
Brussels is also critical of the pace of electric car deployment, which is clearly slower than required to meet the targets for reducing fossil fuel consumption. "Transport", as stated in the text, "remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels and electric mobility is underdeveloped, both on the supply side and on the demand side". These words confirm a reality that has become particularly clear in recent times: both the purchase of battery-powered vehicles - much more energy-efficient and essential to take advantage of all the renewable potential that is yet to come - and the entry into operation of new recharging points are not only several bodies behind the European average but also behind other countries in the immediate vicinity, such as Portugal.
In the additional analysis of the Commission services, Brussels notes how fossil fuels "still account for a substantial part of the Spanish [energy] mix": in 2021, the last full year for which there are data, both oil and gas each accounted for 25% of total primary energy consumption, while barely 18% came from renewable sources. "Spain's high exposure to the prices of these fuels provides a strong incentive to accelerate the transition to clean energy," he adds. In this sense, the Brussels technicians criticize the "harmful" fuel subsidies, on which 3 billion euros of public money were spent in 2021 alone, "putting low-carbon alternatives at a disadvantage". In terms of tax collection, they conclude that Spain still has a great unexplored potential in environmental taxes.
The EU executive also puts the focus on the renovation of residential buildings to drastically reduce their energy demand. The current PNIEC sets its target at 1.2 million homes by the end of the decade, just over a third of them financed with European funds. "The deployment of energy efficiency measures in areas with pronounced shortages and stressed [housing] markets, both through renovation and through electrification, would contribute to containing energy consumption and addressing the green transition, as well as help vulnerable households, most exposed to energy poverty," the European Commission stresses.
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