Is solar in Spain losing its shine?

According to provisional figures published by the Spanish grid operator, in 2013 Spain covered 4.9% of its electricity demand by solar systems and added 140 MW of new solar PV. The figures revealed that renewable energies dominate the Spanish energy landscape, yet challenges remain.

Spanish electricity grid operator Red Eléctrica de España (REE) released its provisional figures for 2013 concerning the country’s electricity demand. According to the figures, 3.1% of Spain’s electricity demand was covered by solar PV, while an extra 1.8% of electricity demand was covered by concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies.

Compared to the 3% and 1.3% of electricity demand covered by solar PV and CSP technologies respectively in 2012, this year represents a slight increase.

Increased power production was the trend for all other types of renewable technology too, which in 2013, REE said, provided a record 42.2% of the electricity demand,10.5% higher than in 2012.

Spain’s impressive renewable power generation increase in 2013 was partly favoured by the high rainfall in the early part of the year and also by the high penetration of wind energy in the Spanish electricity system. Specifically, hydro and wind energy contributed 14.4% and 21.1% of the country’s electricity demand in 2013, compared to 7.7% and 18.1% respectively in 2012.

The rest of the country’s 2013 electricity demand, provisional REE data shows, was met by nuclear power (21%), coal (14.6%), combined cycle plants (9.6%) and various other cogeneration types of plants (12.4%).

Spain adds 140 MW of new solar PV

Spain’s installed power capacity in 2013, the REE report says, was also increased by 556 MW, all by renewable technologies.

Of these, solar PV contributed 140 MW, CSP added 300 MW and wind projects installed an extra 173 MW of new renewable power capacity.

Despite these installations being relatively low, at the end of 2013 renewable energies represent 49.1% of the total 102.3 GW installed power in Spain, REE reported.

Additionally, the country has succeeded in becoming a net electricity exporter for the tenth consecutive year, exchanging power with France, Portugal, Andorra and Morocco. Exports in 2013 stood at 16,913 GWh and imports at 9,955 GWh. These last reports are particularly encouraging for the Spanish energy business, which saw overall 2013 demand for electrical energy fall by 2.1%.

One cannot ignore the Spanish success in achieving high penetration of renewable energies in its energy system. However, the government has been heavily criticised for failing to reduce renewable energies support on time, resulting to a massive energy tariff deficit, which in turn brought draconian cuts in the sector. Under these circumstances, further renewable projects development in 2014 looks rather improbable.

2013’s solar PV sector development was incremental, and 2014’s prospects do not appear any better. Spanish solar PV developers face the imposition of new significant cuts, with the abolition of the FITs altogether being perhaps the most significant event of the year to end tonight.

1 MW lithium-ion battery system in Seville

On the contrary, investment in renewable energy-related innovation and technological development looks far more promising. In a separate release published last week, REE said that the company’s investment in R&D in 2013 exceeded €14 million, an 80% increase compared to the previous year, and part of its 2012-2016 innovation and technological development plan.

This plan includes projects aimed at the development of an integrated transmission grid at a European level, the incorporation of new technologies into the grid, sustainable development and the promotion of new resources for system operation, such as energy storage.

This is the case of the 1 MW lithium-ion battery-based storage system that REE announced last week it connected to the transmission grid in Seville. The system, REE says, is the first European electrochemical energy storage system connected to the transmission grid and is capable of storing energy equivalent to the simultaneous demand of 300 households, for use at any given moment when required by the system. The project was co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).