Energy: Spain’s opportunity in the face of the new push for renewables | Economy

Assembly of solar panel structures on the roof of an industry.
Assembly of solar panel structures on the roof of an industry.Christopher Castro

Our country is facing a decisive moment in the coming weeks in which the European Union is going to make important decisions on energy matters. Each country has its own interests and ours is linked to renewables, as is our future. In the first place, due to the abundance of wind and, above all, solar resources in our country: it is the country with the highest hourly solar intensity in Europe and it has territory to take advantage of economies of scale. But also because we have an internationally competitive renewable technology industry. Today, Spain has globally leading companies in this sector, with significant export capacity, and which generate economic activity and stable, quality employment.

The photovoltaic solar energy industry, in particular, is solidly positioned in the different phases of the value chain: in power electronics, in trackers, in structures and engineering. Last year alone, our sector generated more than 8,000 million euros in contribution to the national GDP, exported more than 2,400 million and employed more than 60,000 people, between direct, indirect and induced jobs.

Despite everything, our industry has a pending issue: the large-scale manufacturing of photovoltaic modules. A component that, although it only accounts for 35% of the value of a solar plant, is obviously essential. Today, these modules are fundamentally imported, although Spain was a pioneer country in the development of this technology. In the 1990s it had more than 50% of global production, although it is true that at that time the world market was only a few megawatts. And in the first decade of this century some of the most modern factories of the time were installed. However, the lack of a domestic market and Asian competition led to its demise.

This situation is not inalterable. We can reverse it and, in fact, we are in a great moment to do it. Spain has one of the most solid markets in Europe, with more than 4 gigawatts installed last year, a market supported by some objectives of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) that should be revised upwards soon, and in which only the shadows of the difficulty of managing them in time by the different administrations and the neo-negationist movements appear.

In addition, the automation of module production processes has meant that labor costs are no longer decisive. The key factor is obtaining silicon, not because of its scarcity —it is the second most abundant metal in the earth’s crust— but because it is an energy-intensive process. The use of photovoltaic energy, “solar for solar”, that is, using renewable electricity obtained from solar plants directly to manufacture modules, can contribute to gaining competitiveness. A circular economy approach that, in addition, and, unlike what happens in other countries, would allow it to be done in a climate-neutral way, without carbon emissions.

Added to this scenario, now viable thanks to the competitiveness achieved by photovoltaic technology in recent years, is the extraordinary opportunity that European Funds represent. Next Generation. All this makes it possible today to propose the development of a national photovoltaic module manufacturing industry that would provide Spain and the whole of Europe with a “strategic reserve of renewable technologies”, coinciding with other similar initiatives that are being carried out in other European countries. An objective that cannot be postponed in view of the fragility that comes with Europe’s energy dependence on energy supplies from countries such as Russia, as has been revealed during the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.

He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.


From geopolitics to technopolitics

Spain cannot afford to miss out on this opportunity. The First Industrial Revolution forever transformed the way of conceiving the economy. The areas of the globe abundant in coal and iron were then discovered to possess resources that in some cases became their blessing and, in others, their curse. The end of the 19th century was also that of the hegemony of coal and the beginning of the 20th century was that of oil. The change in the primacy of raw materials had its correlate in geopolitics: geographic control of the producing areas of these natural resources became a fundamental element for political control and economic growth.

But well into the 21st century, the rise of renewable energies, such as solar and wind power, has managed to break this dynamic. Because the strategic resource of renewables, the sun and the wind, are common, do not run out and are present to a greater or lesser extent throughout the planet. That is why now the control of technology replaces geographic control. And so, in our times, geopolitics gives way to technopolitics.

Spain faces this new scenario in a very advantageous position: unlike what happened in the past, we have the energy resource, the sun and the wind, and, most importantly, we are leaders in the technology necessary to take advantage of it. In the case of photovoltaic solar energy, we can only make a commitment to end up being leaders in the entire value chain, from innovation to the manufacture of modules, avoiding the dependence that we have today on this last component. Our economic interests, our energy autonomy, our security and, by extension, our national sovereignty are at stake. Let’s not let, not this time, miss this opportunity.

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