Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC)
In par with the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC), Spain has brought forward the decarbonization and increase of renewables in the energy mix through various actions. Firstly, it halted licences for oil and gas explorations and began the phase-out of both nuclear and coal production — with traditional energy sectors being involved in training schemes for clean energy production. Committing to expanding solar capacity, the Totana Solar Plant has utilised sunshine to become a major contributor to Spain’s national power network.
Furthermore, a €250m deal was set in place to close coal mines whilst investing in mining regions, re-skilling, and providing benefits to miners. As for the nuclear phase-out element of the PNIEC, Spain is now on track to complete it by 2035 — with the decommissioning of the country’s seven nuclear power reactors being offset by an increase in renewable power capacity.
However, it must be noted that the phase-out could be suspended during the aftermath of the 2023 Spanish General Elections, with intentions of the Popular Party (PP) to reverse the planned decommissioning of plants. Following the planned change in the energy mix, Spain’s leading provider of electricity is now renewable energy, surpassing half of the National objective to reach 74% of renewable electricity generation in 2030. Additionally, the increase in domestic energy production has meant that energy dependency on foreign sources has fallen from 73% (2021) to 51% (2023). This adds to the €280m initiative by Ribera’s ministry to drive the creation of energy storage projects for an increasingly stable and safer domestic energy supply.
Following the mobilisation of investment from private and public sources (85% and 15%, respectively), economic literature and similar examples elsewhere point to a transition towards renewables which highlights a possible decoupling of economic growth from carbon emissions — as well as the International Energy Association’s remarks on solar and wind power being able to competitively replace costs of fossil fuels during the upcoming years for lower wholesale electricity prices in the European market. Likewise, for interconnectivity with Europe, Spain’s current production capacity on renewable energy and the development of pan-European imbalance netting services are introducing Spain’s participation in interconnected balancing markets.
On another hand, with the phase-out of nuclear power, Spain could become a European leader in renewables, turning attention away from nuclear’s financial burden and into investments in renewable power. This proves most fossil studies have concluded the feasibility of short-term phase-outs of nuclear and coal power plants in the country — including scenarios of delays in the phase-out, worsening droughts, and increments in electricity demand.
For the energy transition, an economic and social opportunity for Spain to lead Europe in the fight against global warming presents itself to its framework on decarbonization and emerging clean-energy leading industry, including attraction for investments and the growing presence of Spain in the European Union through Teresa Ribera’s ministry presenting Spain as a frontrunner and leader on renewables — all whilst domestically creating high value and sustainable economic activity in Spain.
As the PNIEC seeks to reverse carbon emissions, focus on renewable energy projects has meant a fall in CO2 emissions. For instance, the Totana Solar Plant is now replacing the generation of 104,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, while the phase-out of nuclear and coal power plants is estimated to cause carbon emissions to decline by 36-60 million tonnes until 2030.
Additionally, air pollutants emissions are projected to significantly reduce and improve air quality, alongside the removal of nuclear power damage to the environment in the form of greenhouse gas emissions from uranium mining, transport, processing, and construction time. On another hand, the use of renewables presents a more affordable and faster deployment than nuclear, providing a rapid and larger possible implementation of renewable facilities by 2050.
Finally, Spanish projects underway for biofuels with low-emission intensity are expected to account for more than half of fuel consumption in domestic aviation and one-third in domestic maritime transport, introducing transitional energy to sectors that have been harder to decarbonize.
National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PNACC)
The National Climate Change Adaptation Plan has proved to be a useful instrument for the implementation of a just and efficient climate transition, having made it possible state-and-regional wise for adaptation to be introduced into the agendas of institutions, and third-sector organisations, included in the transition headed by Teresa Ribera. From its implementation, it has become a reference for public policies and the enabling of data consultation, economic, and technical backing towards adaptation of sectors and territories affected by the climate crisis— including those that have to do with water resources, agriculture, and livestock, coasts, etc.. For instance, the approval of the Third Cycle Hydrological Plans has gathered an investment of €22.84 billion towards the modernization of water management. Additionally, other implementations include the Flood Risk Management Plans, and notable actions in Benidorm and Valencia — with projects of reintegration of green infrastructure and environmental improvement and protection of the coast from urbanisation, respectively.
Guiding the plan on previous preliminary assessments of climate change impacts, the implementation is based on previous efforts and knowledge gained from them. Through the Hydrological Plans, the Spanish scenario is expected to incorporate climate change scenarios into plans for bodies of water, which will also promote investments towards regional governments affected by the driest basins in the Levante region to promote desalination plants and interconnected infrastructure on a national level.
On another hand, for a just adaptation, farmers and consumers affected by drought will receive the help of €2.2 billion for production and food availability, securing the ambition of Ribera’s ministry for a productive and resilient primary sector which likewise provides security for investment in the transition. Additionally, the initiative of Energy Saving Certificates has provided wholesale oil traders with greater liquidity and saving quotas for an increase in employment, production, and competitiveness— as well as efficiency in savings and energy consumption.
The interventions recommended and set in motion by the PNACC aim at building a more resilient system in Spain for changes, and the prevention of future adaptation needs by introducing actions for decreasing soil erosion and their storage capacity, improving soil organic carbon stocks by reducing chemical inputs, and increasing crop diversification. Additionally, marine species have been positively impacted. through fluvial connectivity and the elimination of barriers, restoration of wetlands, and protection of protected areas. For instance, actions in Valencia have integrated the not-yet urbanised areas of the region’s coastline (12%) into a protected seashore.
Spanish Hydrogen Roadmap
For the implementation of the Spanish Hydrogen Roadmap, Spain presents itself en route to its target of green hydrogen capacity, production, and interconnectivity. Remarkably, Ribera’s ministry has been part of the agreement with France, Germany, and Portugal to build a hydrogen pipeline by 2030 — which will transport around 2 million metric tonnes of hydrogen to France each year. Furthermore, the country has managed to over-exceed its initial target for green hydrogen capacity from a targeted 4 GW by 2030 to now having 15.5 GW. As for hydrogen-related project support, the government launched a €1.5 billion plan in 2021, in addition to the investments towards the Spanish so-called “Hydrogen Valley”.
These investments are towards the creation of valleys in both the regions of Andalusia and Asturias for the enabling of green hydrogen factories. Additionally, coal mining towns are seeing the reconstruction of former coal plants for green hydrogen plants by the Spanish company Iberdrola, with the company and the rest of Spain’s main energy providers (Repsol, BP, and Cepsa) carving plans for the decarbonization of their hydrogen consumption by 2030.
Now, Spain accounts for 20% of the world’s green hydrogen projects, turning attention to its attractive green hydrogen competitiveness in the EU. Forming a leading role, production has particularly benefited from its national wind and solar power capabilities and the fifty green hydrogen projects under development in Spain. This points to a future potential production of green hydrogen which could cover Spain’s needs, as well as be viable for exports towards northern Europe.
Green hydrogen has found itself useful in decarbonization for sectors harder to electrify during the transition, such as with biofuels, making Spain a competitive producer of green hydrogen and continuing its rapid target rate of decarbonization. Additionally, steel producers could see themselves benefitted from the use of hydrogen-fueled equipment, allowing the sector to lower emissions by up to 90 per cent in 2050 with the same rate of production.
Furthermore, Spain’s existing and expanding manufacturing capabilities, a network of hydrogen infrastructure, and supportive regulations (brought forward by Ribera’s ministry) could facilitate increasing investment and hydrogen produced at lower costs in comparison with other European nations such as Germany— as the production of green hydrogen is expected to have lower costs by 2040 for full decarbonization.
Spain’s emphasis on the production of green hydrogen, in comparison with other types such as blue or grey, comes from the difference in the production of it. The electricity used to create green hydrogen comes from renewable sources of energy, which does not create harmful emissions and has made it earn the title of carbon neutral. With ample uses and capacities, such as being transported throughout long distances compressed or liquefied, for use in transportation, as burning fuel, heat for industrial processes, etc., hydrogen brings a capacity to electrify in harder sectors that rely on fossil fuels. While it must be kept in mind that hydrogen projects could present direct competition with agricultural consumptions during drought, water desalination in coastal areas —which is pushed by the PNACC— can decrease the risk. On another hand, already underway, the transformation of the former mining town of Puertollano by Iberdrola in 2022, will prevent the release of 48,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually— adding to the reduction efforts of CO2 emissions to fight global warming.
IExRAIA Summer Research Program:
This article is an excerpt from a report on Teresa Ribera produced as part of an RAIA research program on climate leaders. For a full picture of Teresa Ribera’s climate leadership read the full report. This project was fully financed by IE University’s School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs.
Authors: Ajinkya Deshpande & Valeria Eggers
Editor: Alberto Campos Moya
Project Lead: Joshua Dario Hasenstab
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