Energy Transition

Spain's Núñez de Balboa solar plant could give clean, renewable energy to 250,000 people

Núñez de Balboa solar plant in Spain

The Núñez de Balboa solar plant will supply energy to over a quarter of a million people. Image: REUTERS/Santiago Ferrero

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Decarbonizing Energy

  • Construction is completed and testing is underway on a huge photovoltaic installation in Spain.
  • The solar plant will supply emissions-free electricity to a quarter of a million people.
  • The Núñez de Balboa solar plant could reduce annual CO2 emissions by more than 200,000 tonnes.
  • Investment and capacity is set to increase significantly in coming decades.
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It covers an area equivalent to 1,200 football pitches and is the biggest of its kind in Europe. The huge Núñez de Balboa solar power project is the latest addition to Spain’s growing renewable energy sector.

The site in western Spain houses more than 1.4 million solar panels, capable of producing 500 megawatts of installed capacity when fully operational – enough power to supply clean energy to 250,000 people. Energy harvested from the sun’s rays travels to a substation along a network of 2,000 kilometres of electrical cables, to service local homes and businesses.

Spain’s latest megaproject, Núñez de Balboa solar plant, covers 10 square kilometres.
Spain’s latest megaproject, Núñez de Balboa solar plant, covers 10 square kilometres. Image: Iberdrola

With construction completed, Spanish power company Ibersola’s new solar plant is undergoing testing with grid operator Eléctrica de España (REE), ready for operations to begin in 2020.

Clean energy from the 10 square kilometre site could cut an estimated 215,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. That’s the equivalent of removing around 45,000 cars from Spain’s roads.

Status quo of Núñez de Balboa solar plant

The project’s status as the biggest of its kind in Europe could be shortlived, however, as the solar sector continues its rapid growth.

Research by SolarPower Europe says 2019 was among the best years ever for European solar, with EU countries adding 16.7 gigawatts of capacity - twice as much as was added in the previous year. Spain was the largest solar market in Europe that year.

Energy prices from renewables like solar power and wind farms are falling fast, as technical advances and efficiency gains increase their competitiveness.

As the subsidies that once characterized European solar projects are largely a thing of the past, cost-conscious developers are increasingly exploiting economies of scale by building bigger and more efficient plants. For example, the Francisco Pizarro project is a 590 megawatt solar plant in Spain, which will be bigger than Núñez de Balboa solar plant when completed in 2022.

New project like Núñez de Balboa solar plant in Spain are adding to the overall installed capacity of solar energy projects
New project like Núñez de Balboa solar plant in Spain are adding to the overall installed capacity of solar energy projects Image: Statista

Global boom

The situation in Europe is mirrored around the world.

Solar PV could cover a quarter of global electricity needs by 2050, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency - with benefits for more than just the planet. The solar industry could employ over 18 million people by that point.

Discover

How is the World Economic Forum facilitating the transition to clean energy?

The growing cost competitiveness of renewables is a vital component in their meteoric take-up, but there is another cost that’s growing in significance. As the climate crisis deepens, the environmental cost of burning fossil fuels is adding to the attraction of emissions-free energy from solar power, wind farms and other renewable sources.

But renewables have different characteristics to traditional power sources, like oil or coal, and a rethink of our energy systems is needed to accommodate their growth.

Investment in smart electricity networks and electricity storage solutions will be crucial to provide power when there is no wind or sunshine - and to maximize the potential of sustainable options in tomorrow’s energy mix.

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