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Could Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy?

The two countries are greatly exposed to solar radiation and they already share electricity interconnectors

Spain was an early developer of solar energy, but it didn’t keep the pace with the required investments. The effort in renewables should mean a clear increase in installed capacity for solar energy. A partnership with Morocco, gifted with even stronger solar resources, could benefit both countries in producing and marketing this particular renewable energy. Spain and Morocco are about to have a third electricity interconnector.


 

ARTICLE / Ane Gil

Spain has a lot of potential in solar energy. Currently, its Germany who produces more photovoltaic electricity than Spain, Portugal or Italy in Europe. In fact, in 2019, Germany produced five times more solar energy than Spain (50 GW of installed capacity versus just 11 GW). This fact has little to do with the raw solar energy that the countries receive, considering that Spain is located in Southern Europe.

For how much solar irradiation Spain receives, the solar energy it produces is scarce. Up until 2013, the installed capacity for solar energy grew rapidly. However, since then, the country has fallen behind many other European countries in the development of capacity. The country initially had a leading role in the development of solar power, with low prices that encouraged a boom in solar power installed capacity. However, because of the 2008 financial crisis, the Spanish government drastically cut its subsidies for solar power and limited any future increases in capacity to 500 MW per year. Between 2012 and 2016, Spain was left waiting while other countries developed. The cost of this was high, seeing as Spain lost much of its world leading status to countries such as Germany, China and Japan.

However, as a legacy from Spain’s earlier development of solar power, in 2018 Spain became the first country in the world using concentrated solar power system (CSP), which accounts for almost a third of solar power installed capacity in the country. Nevertheless, in 2019, Spain installed 4,752 MW of photovoltaic solar energy, which situated Spain as the sixth leading country in the world. As of 2019, Spain has a total installed solar generation capacity of 11,015 MW: 8,711 of photovoltaic energy and 2,304 of solar thermal.

Photovoltaic solar (PV) energy is usually used for smaller-scale electricity projects. The devices generate electricity directly from sunlight via an electronic process that occurs naturally on semiconductors, converting it into usable electricity that can be stored in a solar battery of sent to the electric grid. Solar thermal energy (STE) capture is usually used for electricity production on a massive scale, for its use in the industry.

Low solar energy generated in Spain

By 2020, Spain national system has reached the maximum generation capacity ever recorded: 110,000 MW of wind energy, photovoltaic (PV), hydraulic, conventional thermal power (natural gas, coal, fuel oil), nuclear, etc. This amount of energy contrasts with the increasingly thin demand of power, which in 2019 was 40,000 MW (40 GW). According to the data published by Red Electrica de España, the renewable quota of energy amount to a total of 55,247 MW (55 GW out of 110 GW). This 55 GW is composed of 46% corresponding to wind energy, 16% are photovoltaic and the rest (38%) corresponds to other renewable technologies. During 2019, the national renewable production has been 97,826 GW-hour, which represents 37.5% of the kilowatt-hour that the country demanded last year (the remaining 62.5% has been produced in nuclear power plants or facilities that burn fossil fuels).

So, we can clearly see that the percentage of solar energy is extremely low (3,5% solar photovoltaic and 2% solar thermic of the total kilowatts-hour generated). Nevertheless, Spain has the capability to increase these numbers. According to a report on power potential by country published by the World Bank, Spain has a long-term energy availability of solar resource at any location (average theoretical potential) of 4.575 kilowatts-hour per square metre (kWh/m2). This potential is indicated by the variable of global horizontal irradiation (GHI) on the country, which will vary according to the local factors of the land. Furthermore, the power output achievable by a typical PV system, taking into consideration the theoretical potential and the local factors of the land (average practical potential) is 4.413 kWh, excluding areas due to physical/technical constraints (rugged terrain, urbanized/industrial areas, forests…) PV power output (PVOUT), power generated per unit of the installed PV capacity over the long-term, is an average of 1.93 kilowatt-hours per installed kilowatt-peak of the system capacity (kWh/kWp). It varies according to the season from 1.43 to 2.67 kWh/kWp. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Spain’s electric consumption (balance of production and external trade) in 2019 was of 238 TWh (= 2,38 x1011 kWh).

The colors indicate the average solar radiation; the black dots indicate places where there could be a greater use of solar energy [Mlino76]

Morocco’s solar energy plan

Africa is the continent that receives most solar irradiance, thus being the optimal continent to exploit solar energy. In this regard, Morocco is already aiming to take advantage of this natural resource. At first, this country launched a solar energy plan with investment of USD 9 billion, aiming to generate 2,000 MW (or 2 GW) of solar power by 2020. It has developed mega-scale solar power projects at five locations; at the Sahara (Laayoune), Western Sahara (Boujdour), South of Agadir (Tarfaya), Ain Beni Mathar and Ouarzazate. But Morocco is planning to go further. Morocco announced during COP21 that it planned to increase the renewables capacity to reach 52% of the total by 2030 (20% solar, 20% wind, 12% hydro). To meet the 2030 target, the country aims to add around 10 GW of renewable capacities between 2018 and 2030, consisting of 4,560 MW of solar, 4,200 MW of wind, and 1,330 MW of hydropower capacity. The Moroccan Agency for Renewable Energy revealed that by the end of 2019, Morocco’s renewable energy reached 3,685 megawatts (MW), including 700 MW of solar energy, 1,215 MW of wind power, and 1,770 MW of hydroelectricity.

Now, what would happen if Spain partnered up with Morocco? Morocco is the only African country to have a power cable link to Europe. In fact, it’s through Spain that these two electricity interconnectors arrive to Europe. The first subsea interconnection, with a technical capacity of 700 MW, was commissioned in 1997 and started commercial operation in 1998. The second was commissioned in the summer of 2016. Furthermore, a new interconnection had been commissioned. This should not only reduce the price of electricity in the Spanish market but it should also allow the integration of renewable energy, mainly photovoltaic, into European electricity system.

Moreover, Red Electrica de España (REE) stated that a collaborations agreement between the Spain and Morocco had been formed “to establish a strategic partnership on energy, whose objectives will be focused on the integration of networks and energy markets, the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency.” But the possibilities don’t stop there. If both countries further develop their solar energy capacities, they could jointly provide enough electricity to sustain Europe, through sustainable and renewable resources.

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