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Photovoltaics is already the electricity generation technology with the most installed power in Spain

PV has revolutionized the national electrical system like no other technology has done until now. In just five years – the five-year period of the Sun – photovoltaics have been able to add more than 27,000 megawatts (MW) in the national territory. Neither wind power, which until now was the technology with the most installed megabytes (30,718, according to Red Eléctrica), nor combined cycles (thermal plants that burn natural gas to generate electricity) grew so much in such a short time. And the latter, for example, also experienced periods of formidable expansion. At the end of the last century and very beginning of this one, PSOE and PP turned natural gas (Combined Cycles) into the country's great energy bet and raised the gas generation park to 20,000 megabytes in just over five years. But not even in that case. Because the best five-year period for gas (2003/2007) is far from the FV figures of this five-year period that we have just closed (2019/2023).

The result is this: the large energy companies launched between 2003 and 2007 no more and no less than eighteen gigawatts of DC power (combined cycle plants), but they and other actors have installed, between 2019 and this 2023 has just concluded, up to 27 photovoltaic gigabytes. 27 gigawatts very different from those others, given the nature of each source: fossil versus renewable. Because, while burning gas to obtain electricity (or heating) produces greenhouse gases, using the Sun... does not.

The sector's employer, the Spanish Photovoltaic Union, UNEF, delves into the matter in its latest Annual Report, which it published this past September. “Following international standards, the environmental impact of any economic activity must be measured through the calculation of its footprint throughout its global production chain. In this sense – UNEF explains in that report – the environmental footprint of the photovoltaic sector amounted, including direct, indirect and induced footprint, to 2.12 million tons of CO2 in 2020 and 2.84 MtCO2 in 2021.”

These data – UNEF continues – are not high if we compare them with the emissions that are avoided by being able to dispense with non-renewable sources in the national electricity mix. “If, for example – the association explains – the photovoltaic gigawatt hours were produced through the combustion of gas in combined cycle plants, emissions from the electrical mix would have increased by at least 5.5 MtCO2 in 2020 and 7. 6 MtCO2 in 2021 from direct emissions”.

But if gas loses out in terms of health and the environment, in another field of play – the economic one – it does not fare well either. Spain has imported gas worth 12,962 million euros in the first eleven months of this year (latest data published by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism). Almost thirteen billion euros have gone to countries like Russia, Algeria and Nigeria, which are three of our four main gas suppliers.

In contrast, the national PV sector exports more than imports. The authors of the UNEF Annual Report – a team of economists from the University of Castilla La Mancha – have done the math and they have revealed a striking fact: the value of exports is much greater than the value of imports. It already was in 2021, but exports have increased in '22 (the year reviewed by the report). “The 2022 data – they explain – confirm the trend” (the increase has been 1,933 million euros).

Of course, the national photovoltaic solar market is registering such frenetic activity that, “although the balance remains positive in terms of exports – warns UNEF – imports have increased by 97% compared to 2021.” Be that as it may, the sector has exported a value of more than 4.2 billion euros and has imported a value of less than 3,000.


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