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Can Spain power Europe with its solar energy as Elon Musk suggests?

The SpaceX and Tesla billionaire has weighed in on Spain’s plans to be a leader in tech and digital transformation by suggesting the country “power all of Europe” with “a massive solar array”. Does Spain have what it takes?

Can Spain power Europe with its solar energy as Elon Musk suggests?
Spain is currently exporting more solar power than ever before. Does Elon Musk has his finger on the pulse about the country's energetic potential? (Photo by Patrick Pleul / POOL / AFP)

“Spain should build a massive solar array. Could power all of Europe,” tweeted Elon Musk on Monday in response to a story published in tech website Slashdot about the Spanish government’s plans to become a huge producer of microchips. 

READ MORE: Spain to invest €11 billion to become Europe’s microchip factory

The billionaire’s comments are certainly serving to help promote Spain as a country determined to change its economic model from tourism and services dependent to a tech and renewables powerhouse. 

Meta, IBM, Google and Amazon are also among the big players that have announced they will set up huge data centres and create thousands of jobs in Spain in the coming years.

Thanks to billions of euros in EU recovery funds, Spain’s Prime Minister has been able to announce ambitious projects that will contribute to the country’s digital transformation. 

Solar power has so far not been one of those main pillars, but that may be because it’s already an industry that’s in full swing in Spain, which suggests Elon Musk does have his finger on the pulse.

In 2019, the country returned to being Europe’s biggest solar energy producer after an 11-year plateau in the industry’s development. 

This slump came in large part as a result of legislation introduced in 2013 which made it compulsory for any individual or company to hook their solar panels up to the national grid to be metered and taxed, or face fines running into millions of euros.

Luckily, this controversial ‘solar tax’ – slammed as “stupid” and “ludicrous” in international publications – is now a thing of the past, after the law was scrapped in 2018 and other measures were introduced to make energy self-sufficiency easier.

This has spurred a ‘solar panel rush’ in Spain, along with the fact that national electricity rates in the country have kept beating records in 2021 and 2022.

In early 2022, Spain was exporting record amounts of solar energy, especially to France and Portugal, at a favourable price. 

This has been largely due to the fact the network of electricity interconnections Spain has with its nearest neighbours grew by 233 percent in 2021, tripling the revenue for Spain from these exports up to €110 million. 

So what’s stopping Spain from doing what Elon Musk suggests?

For starters, a huge investment to improve the interconnections network across the continent and perhaps five billion more solar panels. 

Despite Spain’s recent growth in interconnections capacity, in 2020 it had still not reached the minimum of 10 percent recommended by the European Union for, the only European country to fall short, according to the European Network of Managers of Electricity Transmission Networks (ENTSO-E).

The EU consumes around 11 percent of the world energy total and according to industry experts it would reportedly take 51.4 billion 350W solar panels to power the world.

This explains Spain’s former Minister of Science and Innovation Pedro Duque’s reply to Elon Musk: “We welcome investments in Spain to boost our already large production of renewables. All our legal framework is prepared for it. Know any investors?”.

In the context of the war in Ukraine and what Putin’s invasion has meant for some European countries dependent on Russian gas, the European Commission recently said that it will do “whatever it takes” to transform Europe’s solar manufacturing industry.

There is still plenty of growth potential for Spain in terms of solar power installations, with little more than 10,000 roofs in the country having solar panels in 2020. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

China is the world’s top manufacturer of solar energy followed by the United States, India, Japan and Vietnam. European countries lag behind in terms of solar panel production, with Spain among other manufacturers on the continent as well as France, Italy and Slovenia.

As the EU’s attention turns to energy self-sufficiency, sunny Spain certainly appears to have the potential to be able to lead the way, in terms of both natural gas dispensation and renewable energy.

It won’t be able to do it alone, however. 

Spain has a fragile economy that suffered greatly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and only the investment of billions of euros from Brussels allowed it to get back on its feet and embark on ambitious transformation projects. 

Perhaps a cash injection from Elon Musk himself – a man with a reported net worth of $267 billion in 2022 – could help take Spain’s photovoltaic industry to a whole new level?

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez seems to think so, having replied to Musk’s tweet with: “We’re already implementing (the) most ambitious plan towards (an) efficient & sustainable energy system. All sectors on board. Maximizing opportunities, digitalization and value chain for a long lasting success. (The) time is now. Let’s get it right. Come and see. We welcome investors in Spain”.


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Spain starts sending gas to Morocco after Algeria spat

Spain has started sending natural gas supplies to Morocco through the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline (GME) to ensure its energy security following a supply crisis with Algeria.

Spain starts sending gas to Morocco after Algeria spat

“The first shipment via the Maghreb gas pipeline took place (on Tuesday) involving LNG (liquefied natural gas) which Morocco bought on the international markets and unloaded at a Spanish regasification plant,” a source at Spain’s ecological transition ministry told AFP.

In February, Spain said it would help Morocco address a gas supply shortage by letting it ship LNG to a Spanish regasification plant which could then be transferred to Morocco via the GME pipeline.

The GME pipeline, which crosses Morocco, had previously been used by Algeria to transport gas to Spain.

But in October, following a diplomatic spat, Algiers refused to renew a 25-year deal with Rabat to use the pipeline.   

Morocco had been receiving around a billion cubic metres of gas per year as transit fees, covering around 97 percent of its needs, so Algeria’s move directly impacted on Rabat’s energy supplies.

Algiers, which in the first quarter supplied about 25 percent of Spain’s gas imports, had in April warned Madrid not to re-export any of its supplies to Morocco, warning it could endanger its own contract with Algeria.

“A certification scheme guarantees that this gas is not of Algerian origin,” the Spanish ministry source said.

Spain’s Enagas, which operates four LNG terminals and the national gas grid, “will check the origin of the methane tanker carrying the gas” acquired by Morocco “and after unloading will issue a certificate”, ensuring that no other gas is exported, the source said.

Tensions peaked between the North African neighbours last year following Morocco’s renewal of diplomatic ties with Israel and Washington’s recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara.

Diplomatic ties have also nose-dived between Spain and Algeria after Madrid reversed its decades-long stance of neutrality on Western Sahara, agreeing to back Morocco’s autonomy plan for the disputed region to end a year-long diplomatic spat.

Spain’s move, widely seen as a victory for Morocco, infuriated Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front, Western Sahara’s independence movement.