Spain: A Climate Look Past and Forward

Looking Back 2022:  Extreme Weather Strains Energy Resources

Looking Forward 2023: Plan to Secure 74% of Electricity with  Renewable Energy Resources

After a turbulent year setting off with the wettest march in 61 years, the earliest heatwave in over 40 years, and complete with the warmest New Year’s Day in over 20 years, 2022 has given Spaniards a harsh glimpse of how human life will be impacted under the adverse weather induced by climate change. Despite being widely applauded for its overall successes in a rapid renewable energy rollout to decarbonize the economy, the reliability of renewable sources to meet long-term energy security under increasingly frequent extreme weather events is being drastically challenged.

The abnormally prolonged wet period in March, coupled with a huge Saharan ‘Calima’ dust cloud, left Spain with its lowest level of solar irradiance since records began in 1994. This severely hampered the extent of photovoltaic generation, which is responsible for delivering almost 10% of the electricity demand on the Iberian Peninsula. Moreover, the summer saw record-breaking heatwaves that arrived earlier, lasted longer, and burnt hotter, drying up rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, almost halving hydroelectric capacity.

The accumulated rainfall deficit has left Spanish reservoirs at their lowest levels since 1995, with the Guadalquivir, Guardina, and Guadalete-Barbate river basins hovering at around 20% of their original capacity. Spain has successfully dealt with water scarcity for decades, with its expansive 765 strong desalination plants,  the 4th highest desalination capacity globally. They act as effective mitigation systems to alleviate shortages. However, the increasing frequency of heatwaves and subsequent burgeoning water scarcity is beginning to change the central government’s reliance on desalination from an emergency tool to a conventional water source. It has instigated a negative feedback loop within the water-energy nexus.  Desalination remains a highly energy-intensive process, where dwindling water levels that have cut hydroelectric power have exacerbated energy demand because of the intensified usage of desalination.

Soaring demand for cooling under the sweltering summer heatwaves led the Spanish government to prohibit air-conditioning at less than 27 degrees Celsius, illustrating the desperate measures introduced to dampen the stress on the power grid and ‘promote energy efficiency.’ Ironically, around 84% of buildings in Spain are considered energy inefficient, and although the central government attempted to resolve the issue through a 5-year building renovation plan in 2015, the project never materialized, and renovation rates conversely dropped during the period. The ESADE predicted that Spain would have saved 11 billion euros worth of energy under the planned renovation by 2022, representing the substantial loss of a simple yet neglected policy. Buildings in Spain consume around 30% of energy in Spain, and increased demand for cooling under hotter summers will only see this figure.

Despite managing to meet energy demand in 2022, energy prices have skyrocketed, leaving Spain as the sixth most energy-impoverished state in the EU. The average temperatures in Spain are expected to rise faster than the EU average, bringing with them a greater magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that will substantially increase energy demand while threatening the supply of renewables. Looking at 2023 and onwards, Spain’s ambitious plan to secure a 74% share of electricity generation through renewable sources is coming under deep scrutiny, and many questions whether promised reductions in fossil-fuel-derived energy will materialize in a country with increasingly strained renewable sources.


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Spain Country Manager Sean Lewis


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