Researchers: Spanish Electricity Model Is Unsustainable

The current Spanish electricity model is unsustainable: Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are hard to control, demand shows no sign of weakening, and the country is overly dependent on imported fuel. These are the conclusions of a team of scientists from the Institute for Research in Technology of the University of Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, who looked at how the Spanish electricity sector would evolve in four different scenarios.

As well as testing the sector against these scenarios, the team applied various industrial measures and policies that could currently be undertaken in order to achieve sustainability in the system. The study established that the Spanish electricity sector is responsible for about 25% of the 370 million tons of CO2 Spain currently emits. But it also noted that the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 63% higher than in 1990. "Our 2012 commitment under the Kyoto Protocol is to emit only 15% more than in 1990. In other words, we are a long way off being able to fulfill this objective," said Pedro Linares, an industrial electrical engineer and the study’s lead researcher.

A majority of Spain’s electric energy is produced by thermoelectric, nuclear, and hydroelectric power stations. Renewable energies play only a minor role; according to the International Energy Agency, they accounted for only 6.5% of total production in 2006 — far from the 12% target set by the Renewable Energies Plan for 2005 – 2010.

The four scenarios considered growth in demand, conventional technologies, renewable sources being used now and in the future, investment capacity, the CO2 emissions market, and directives issued under the National Plan on emissions reductions for large combustion facilities (approved in 2007). Under the "business as usual" model, simulations predicted that emissions by 2020 will have doubled compared to 1990 levels.

The three other models simulated how the sector would evolve if policies were implemented for energy promotion (PS1), energy savings (PS2n), and the development of renewables (PSn). The PS2n model saw demand for nuclear energy falling by 50% by 2020, while the results for PS2 and PS2n pointed to emissions in 2020 being 37% lower than they were in 1990.

"The potential of renewables and the prices of emissions permits are fairly realistic assumptions, even for the PS2 scenario," Linares points out. "Unfortunately, the increase in premiums and restraints on the growth of demand are not, and not because they are unmeasurable concepts, but rather because these will require strong political will, and it is not clear that this exists."

Figure 5. Barcelona lights. Spanish researchers at University of Pontificia Comillas in Madrid concluded in a study that examined how the country’s electricity sector would evolve under four scenarios that its electricity model was unsustainable. Spain is struggling to meet a national 12% renewables energy by 2010 target. It currently ranks as one of the countries with the most wind and solar power installed. This image shows the lights in Barcelona. Courtesy: Plataforma SINC

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