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Spain reclaims its former clean-energy dominance in Europe's green transition

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

- "Europe needs Spanish renewables"

Solar panels on the pavement on street in Barcelona area.
Image: From

I have this strong (maybe unrealistic but anyway..) belief/dream that one very bright day, close to 100% of all energy consumption globally will be generated from Mother Nature, using natural power sources like solar and wind.

Which is why the news from Barcelona on installing Spain’s first solar energy pavement made me so especially happy. Looking around me at the café in Valencia where I am sitting, suddenly I see before me how all of the grey tiles come to life and are glimmering with hope.

This is quite literally a great first step to introduce more kinds of green infrastructure as Spain displays its intention to be a power player in Europe's green transition. At the same time, Spain reclaims its clean-energy dominance, taking back the leadership position as the go-to-place for solar and wind, the country enjoyed a decade ago, before the financial crisis dimmed its light.

In the case of the trial in Barcelona, more specifically in a small park in the Glòries area of the city, non-slip solar panels covering a surface of 50 square meters are estimated to generate 7,560kWh a year, said to be enough to supply three households. Eloi Badia, responsible for climate emergency and ecological transition at Barcelona city council, tells the Guardian:

“If we’re going to reach a target of zero emissions, we’re going to have to think about supplying electricity to blocks of flats, but we’ll also have to think of using wind and solar parks outside the city. But installations on the ground like this open up new possibilities, and not just for Barcelona."

Indeed new possibilities are emerging and Spanish renewables by the numbers look very promising. Stated by Beatriz Corredor, president of Red Eléctrica in a Wake up Spain panel.

“A renewable capacity equivalent to four nuclear power stations was achieved in 2020."

For April 2021, the monthly generation of renewable origin was 46.2%, "between wind energy, hydroelectric, concentrated solar power and photovoltaic, and 68.1% was produced from technologies that do not emit equivalent CO2. Wind energy, responsible for 20.8% of the electricity produced in April, has increased its production by 12.3% compared to the same month in 2020", reports Evwind.

Iberdrola key for Spain's renewable brand

A bet 20 years ago made it the Exxon of green power: "A Spanish company, Iberdrola, has quietly become the world leader in combined wind power and solar power outside China", reads a headline from the New York Times.

Iberdrola and its CEO José Ignacio Sánchez Galán, heading the empire for the last 20 years, are the Spanish renewables' main characters. The Financial Times described him as "the engineer" who has transformed what was a second-tier Spanish company into the world's third-largest utility since he took the helm in 2001, transforming it from a primarily domestic company with coal, hydroelectric and oil-fired plants into a leader in clean energy, as well as an owner of electricity grids."

Having invested heavily in the sector for decades, Iberdrola and Mr. Galán is continuing to bet on solar, wind and hydrogen, with a highly ambitious construction plan for Spain:

"It will invest €14.3 billion by 2025, most of which earmarked for an ambitious renewable and smart grid plan. The company is currently building 1,800 MW of PV and wind generation projects in the country and has a 12,900 MW project pipeline at year-end 2020. In Spain, the company leads the renewable energy industry with an installed capacity of 16,700 MW, which will grow to 25,000 MW by 2025 thanks to its investment plan", reports Evwind.

Reclaiming its PV dominance from a decade ago

Once again Spain is back in the global news on energy production from installed photovoltaics (PV). The tipping point occurred in June 2019, according to Evwind: "when more MW of photovoltaic were installed (in Spain) in a single month than in the last seven years. And from there, photovoltaic capacity has not stopped growing without stopping, with growth that has exceeded double digits in a few months."

Graph of energy production from installed photovoltaics (PV) in Spain from 2007 to 2020.
energy production from installed photovoltaics (PV) in Spain. Prepared by AleaSoft with data from REE.

Spanish renewables attract international investors

Many prominent voices in Spain, including that of Iberdrola's CEO Mr. Galán, are predicting made-in-Spain hydrogen to become equally as helpful as photovoltaics in convincing foreign investors to fill their portfolios with Spanish companies in the renewable energy sector.

“On the hydrogen topic we are attracting investors. We are negotiating with companies, with some important ones, to produce from Spain,” Mr. Galán says in a panel discussion during the Wake up Spain 4-day sessions.

Today, solar power seems to still be what is capturing the most attention from international investors. British Quercus has announced its arrival in Spain to take part in the revival with its portfolio of Spanish PV development projects, said to reach a capacity of 800MW.

“This transaction represents our first announcement since the exit of our €1billion fund platform and furthers our objective of placing long-term environmental and social capital through sustainable investments", says Diego Biasi, the Chairman of Quercus in a statement.

But wind power, the less new and shiny clean energy generator of the three mentioned, maybe deserves more of investors' consideration.

Beatriz Corredor, president of Red Eléctrica, said in another panel that by 2021, wind power is expected to be the first generation source, "above 28%", and that the solar power will be positioned as a "very powerful" energy.

Spain key for Europe's green transition

Mrs. Corredor also made some bold - and according to me 100% true - claims, saying that "Spain will play a key role in the European Union's ecological transition" and that "Europe needs Spanish renewables" to achieve its decarbonization objectives.

Wrapping up, now my dream seems rather realistic after all. At least there are many combined factors pointing in a very optimistic direction for renewable energy production globally, and particularly for the clean energy generated in sunny (and windy) Spain.


NOTE to reader: All mentioned companies have been selected by Caroline Lagergren, founder Expand To Spain, without any outside interference, based on what kind of innovation and people drive actual societal change for the better. We also try to dig up the lesser-known diamonds.

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