The transformative drive of photovoltaic energy is already generating new socioeconomic and biodiversity opportunities in Spain

The Spanish Photovoltaic Union (UNEF), the majority association of solar energy in Spain that has 800 associated companies, celebrates in the context of the International Day of the Sun, the determining role that solar energy is playing in our country to complete an energy transition full of socioeconomic opportunities and for the preservation and conservation of biodiversity.

According to data from Red Eléctrica, in April 2024, photovoltaic solar energy reached 26,260 MW of installed power, ranking as the second largest electricity generation technology above gas. If we add self-consumption to this data, referring to ground-based solar energy projects, with more than 7,000 megawatts of installed power, solar energy would already be the source of electricity generation with the highest installed power in our country.

“Solar energy has revolutionized the national electrical system like no other technology has done until now. In the last five years we have seen how the increase in the presence of photovoltaics in the national energy mix is ??providing, in addition to a clear containment barrier against the climate emergency, the transformative impulse that our country needs to reindustrialize, to generate a new ecosystem of sustainable jobs and for the preservation and renaturalization of biodiversity.”

An opportunity for society

As stated by the United Nations World Organization in the context of World Sun Day, solar energy is a transformative element for society.

For its part, UNEF wants to claim this June 21 some national success stories that demonstrate that photovoltaics is already transforming the reality of our towns and cities thanks to its capacity to generate employment, create real value in the territory in which it is located through the contribution to local taxes and attract industry thanks to the competitive economic advantage that photovoltaics generates in the municipalities in which it is located:

· Alcázar de San Juan (Extremadura): Alcázar de San Juan is the municipality with the highest solar production in Spain thanks to the combination of photovoltaic and solar thermal installations that the city enjoys, and which put it at the head of the country in terms of sustainability.

Currently, Alcázar has 9 photovoltaic plants with 440 megawatts, which combined have a capacity of almost 600 megawatts of clean and renewable energy. As stated by its mayor, Rosa Melchor, photovoltaics is the main source of employment in the municipality today.

· Carmona (Seville): The Carmona city council assures that the photovoltaic projects located in the municipality have reported, to date, around 20 million euros of direct benefits and that they will reach 2,000 million euros in the coming years. through the 440 MW installed of solar energy.

For his part, the Mayor highlights the great training and employment opportunities that these facilities have generated in Carmona and thanks also to the training agreements they are reaching with the promoting companies.

· Zaratán, Ciguñuela, Viana de Cega and Boecillo (Valladolid): The photovoltaic plants adjacent to these municipalities, which have a total power of more than 100 megawatts, are currently employing more than 250 people.

· Zaragoza: The American company Amazon Web Service has announced in recent weeks that it will make the company’s largest investment in the company’s data centers in Europe in the Aragonese town thanks to the renewable power that the region has. According to the regional executive, this alliance will generate around 7,000 local jobs in the province of Zaragoza alone in the coming years.

“These are just some very specific examples of Spanish municipalities in which we can see first-hand that behind the data there are people who receive new opportunities created by sustainable energy and a sector committed to social justice, inclusion and the creation of a future where progress and citizenship are always at the center.” Donoso stated.

An opportunity for biodiversity

In 2023, solar energy avoided, due to its fuel substitution nature, 17.3 Million Tons of CO2 equivalent between self-consumption and ground-based plants in Spain alone. So far this year, thanks to the greater presence of photovoltaics in the national energy mix, in ground-based plants alone, 6.4 million tons of CO2 have been avoided.

“In addition to their nature as a substitute for fossil fuels, ground-based solar energy projects are an opportunity for biodiversity thanks to their high standards of environmental integration. For approximately 30 years, human activity has been limited on the land where they are located, avoiding the use of chemicals and phytosanitary products, so the plants, if managed well, can become true nature reserves,” he explains. José Donoso, general director of UNEF.

The report prepared by the consulting firm EMAT in 2023 that assesses the biodiversity present in different photovoltaic solar installations using birdlife as the main indicator, shows that photovoltaic plants can harbor a diversity similar to and even greater than that of their surroundings or the of the site itself before installation since, due to the area they occupy, and through adequate design and management of the project, they can be turned into a “refuge for biodiversity.”

These projects are especially home to the presence of birds, highlighting some steppe birds of singular interest such as the curlew, the roller, the owl, the kestrels (common and lesser), and the red-necked nightjar. Among the studies carried out, the flyover of the ortega sandgrouse that uses the corridors enabled in said plants to feed and a notable presence, normally in flight, but also perched or feeding, of birds of prey (vultures, eagles) has also been detected. , kites, harriers, hawks, owls, etc.).

Barriers that can stop this double opportunity

At UNEF, we have detected the three main barriers that can hinder the double opportunity that solar energy represents for our country:

1.Proliferation of hoaxes and fakenews: Currently, various groups of people and neo-denialist institutions of the climate emergency, those who believe in the climate emergency, but oppose establishing measures to combat it, as well as groups with competitive economic interests, are creating disinformation campaigns about solar energy that put at risk the collective action necessary to complete the energy transition in our country.

  1. Inadequate marginalist system: In recent months we have seen how the percentage of participation of solar energy in the market has increased, which has translated into a significant reduction in citizens’ electricity bills. Despite being good news for society, it has shown that the current marginalist market model does not adapt to the needs of a technology without marginal costs like ours. If the correct measures are not taken, both for plants in the ground and for self-consumption and storage, investor interest may be at risk and with it, the success of the ecological transition in our country.
  2. Introduction of taxes and moratoriums: In recent months we have seen how in autonomous communities such as Aragón or La Rioja new taxes on solar energy have been implemented or comprehensive moratoriums on these projects have been developed. These measures, in addition to going totally against the objectives that our country has with the European Union regarding decarbonization, generate legal uncertainty in our country that discourages investments.