Spain May Be Targeting a Resurgence as a Renewable Energy Leader

Following its crippling economic crisis that inevitably led to the country losing ground in its status as a global leader in renewable energy production, Spain is looking to prioritize the sector rather than decimating it.

The world knows about Spain’s staggering economic crisis, a downturn in its economy that the country is now starting to climb out of. A lesser known fact could make for insightful reading. Spain, with its 300 days of sunshine and a landscape that receive plenty of winds was the world leader in solar and wind energy production between 2007-08, the year before the global financial crisis. As reported by AFP, the year was also one where a decade-long property bubble burst, resulting in previous subsidiaries and benefits granted to renewable energy adopters being reversed with the government also going back on its promises.

Speaking to the publication, Jorge Puebla, a 41-year-old firefighter and father of two who made a substantial renewable energy investment had damning words for the government at the time.

They ruined my life.

In 2007, Puebla and his wife invested a million euros ($1.1 million) in a solar energy farm in the north eastern region of Spain. Puebla’s parents presented themselves as the guarantors for a bank loan that saw the couple borrow 800,000 euros from a bank. The idea for investing in renewable energy was an attractive proposition at the time, during the reign of the Socialist government in power.

Producers of solar energy were guaranteed a “solar tariff” of up to 44 cents per kilowatt-hour for their electricity, a slab that was promised for 25 years. At such returns, the borrowing couple could
comfortably repay their loan payments of 8,400 euros. However, a budget deficit forced the government to cut its promised subsidies and state aid was completely take down when the conservative party rode to power in the next term in 2011.

WindmillPuebla’s unfortunate tale is one that is shared by thousands in Spain. At the height of its status as the top global producer of solar energy, Spain’s solar power sector employed 35,000 people in 2008. Now, Spain only employs 5,000 people, according to Jose Donoso, the head of Spain’s chief solar lobby group UNEF (Unión Española Fotovoltaica).

In a remarkable figure that confirms the extent of the economic crisis and its impact, Spain only added 22 megawatts of photovoltaics installations last year, compared to 2,270 megawatts achieved by Great Britain. The wind energy industry also lost half its jobs in the past eight years due to the government’s shift in stance and the economic crisis, with zero wind power installations added so far this year. The situation is so dire that Abengoa, Spain’s most prominent renewable energy company which employs over 27,000 people from around the world is close to filing bankruptcy.

Heikki Willstedt, Spain’s Wind Energy Association policy director explained the year so far:

2015 marks the lowest point in the development of renewables in the past 20 years in Spain.

She notes the importance of the next few years, while stating that “Spain must make up for lost time and fulfil its goals for 2020.”

One of those goals include Spain’s commitment to achieve 20% of its energy demands via renewable energy. In its current course, Spain is at 15%.

Also read: A World Where Solar Land is More Valued than Farm Land

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made a pledge at the World Climate Conference 2015 (COP21) to mandate a “law on climate change,” if re-elected. Rajoy has previously spoken against renewable energy, claiming it to be far too expensive for it to be feasible.

Despite the slowest year yet in expanding on renewable energy installations in the past two decades, Spain is still the third biggest exporter of wind power in the world and the fifth largest producer.

Images from Shutterstock.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.