Spanish utility Iberdrola has commissioned Europe’s largest solar PV plant, the 500MW Núñez de Balboa solar farm in the southwest of Spain, which was built in the space of a single year.
The Núñez de Balboa – built between the towns of Usagre, Hinojosa del Valle, and Bienvenida in the province of Badajoz, in the autonomous Extremadura – was commissioned last Monday after being substantially complete in December.
During construction, it added €227 million to the value chain from some thirty suppliers and employed a maximum of 1,200 workers at peak construction periods, with 70% coming from the Extremadura region.
Consisting of 1,430,000 solar panels, 115 inverters, and two substations, the Núñez de Balboa solar power plant will generate enough electricity for the equivalent of 250,000 people a year and will prevent the emission of 215,000 tonnes of CO2 annually.
Iberdrola expects that electricity generated from the Núñez de Balboa project will supply clean energy to major clients from the banking, telecommunications, and distribution sectors, through long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) – a major source of decarbonisation for companies around the world.
Developed in collaboration with local power provider Ecoenergías del Guadiana, the Núñez de Balboa received financing from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Instituto de Crédito Oficial (ICO), Spain’s state financial agency for the project.
“We are very pleased to support a project that will strengthen Spanish and European leadership in the transition to a low-emission economy,” said EIB Vice-President Emma Navarro back in July. Our participation proves EIB’s strong commitment to climate action.
The EU bank is the largest multilateral finance provider for projects that contribute to the fight against climate change, such as this one that reduces polluting emissions while generating economic growth and jobs.”
The new solar PV power plant is part of Iberdrola’s larger plans to develop over 2GW of solar PV generation by 2022 – a target backed up by more than 1.3GW of solar projects already in the company’s pipeline, including the 590MW Francisco Pizarro project in Torrecillas de la Tiesa; the 328MW Ceclavín in Alcántara; the 150MW Arenales in Cáceres; the 150MW Campo Arañuelo I, II, and III in the district of Almaraz; and the Majada Alata and San Antonio projects in Cedillo, each of which will be 50MW.
Further, Iberdrola’s plans for solar development are part of the company’s larger plans to invest in Spanish renewables, with a target of 3GW of new renewables capacity by 2022, and 10GW worth of new renewables by 2030.
Already the Spanish renewable energy leader, with 6GW of wind energy capacity and over 16GW of renewables as a whole, the company also boasts a total of around 32GW renewables worldwide.
The commissioning of the Núñez de Balboa also comes at an important time for the global solar industry, which has been suffering under the personnel and demand ramifications of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Global energy analysts Wood Mackenzie announced last week that it was slashing its forecast for 2020 solar deployment by more than 20GW, revising down from the originally expected 129.5GW of new capacity to be installed in 2020 down to 106.4GW – which, if accurate, effectively cuts solar growth off at the knees for the past couple of years.
“Auctions are being delayed, [power-purchase agreement] negotiations [have been] halted and permitting is slowing down,” said Tom Heggarty, principal analyst for solar at Wood Mackenzie.
“Weak power prices and collapsing [forex] rates are severely damaging the economics of new investments across a wide range of countries. Projects that were slated for 2021 will be tougher to bring to market on time, if they make it at all.”
Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), writing in a blog post about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the US solar industry, gloomily concluded that “solar companies and workers are losing business and being put out of work by COVID-19.”
While there is certainly a global component to how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the solar industry – and the global renewable energy industries as a whole – there are also some localised differences based around how different national governments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and how they look to stimulate the economy in its aftermath.
For example, leaders in the European Union have called on the European Parliament and Commission to integrate “the green transition and the digital” into any response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The decision of the European Council to include the green transition as a key element of the European COVID-19 stimulus package is smart and forward-looking,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe.
“Solar power, as the most job intensive, low-cost and easily deployed renewable technology can play an important role in this regard.
“We are collaborating closely with our members to bring forward concrete proposals with the aim of mitigating the effects of the virus on the European solar sector and boosting new investments across the entire solar industrial value chain.”