Catalonia, 100% Renewable

The debate, now suspended due to the electoral process, will have to be deep and substantive. It will need to include all the players: civil society, energy companies, the experts... it is a major challenge

In 2008, the then militant Catalan chapter of GreenPeace solemnly presented its proposal "Catalonia, 100% renewable by 2050". It was a very interesting exercise. I remember that in response to some doubts that I had expressed to one of the authors, I was told that the environmental organization had gone much further than they should have. He was right. The goal was to argue for an option that at least deserved to be seriously considered by political and technical decision makers.

Three years earlier, despite diminished powers, the first Catalan Energy Plan for 2005-2015 had been approved (and revised in 2009 to fine-tune forecasts and adapt it to the 2008-2012 Plan for Mitigation of Climate Change, also the first of its kind in Catalonia). It was modest in its goals and instruments but, to me, it had the value of being the first time that our nation had formally proposed an energy plan. At that time, renewable energy sources covered a meager 3.1%. The current government revised it again (2012-2020 Plan for Energy and Climate Change).

The goal for 2020 is a reduction of primary energy consumption of 20%, and of generation by renewables of 20%. As in the previous plan, it did not include provisions to build any new nuclear plants nor to close the existing ones before the end of their useful life. In short, far from the bold GreenPeace proposal, the various governments have shown restraint by following the EU’s formal guideline (20% renewable by 2030, now outdated). On the other hand, many CiU leaders had spoken mainly in favor of maintaining a combination of generation technologies, and they have been especially ambiguous regarding nuclear power (except for the president of the now-defunct coalition, who was publicly in favor).

Realism prevailed and they adhered to the regulatory context, 100% in the hands of the Spanish government, which has made things difficult, indeed. But that’s not the end of it. The govern has launched a participatory process to reach a National Agreement (welcome back!) for an energy transition, with the goal of defining a 100% renewable energy model by 2050. After overcoming the initial surprise caused by the promoter of the idea (backed by a parliamentary resolution) ... it was welcomed! The debate, now suspended due to the electoral process, will have to be deep and substantive. It will need to include all the players: civil society, energy companies, the experts... it is a major challenge.

From the first ideas, which can be found on the web, I have a number of concerns that stem from the proposal of the environmentalists: a) Energy efficiency to reduce electrical consumption (voluntarily, and with special attention to energy poverty) is key. This implies regulatory changes, intensive investment in infrastructures, and a change in habits. We are already doing this, but it is necessary to dramatically extend known good practices. b) Renewables are extensive technologies. We must change the logic of concentrated generation. It is necessary to use urban land and to enable self-generation, but also it will probably be necessary to place windmills and other facilities across Catalonia, and we have not, to date, been able to reach agreements on this. Floating offshore wind farms would be important, but we have not even been able to agree on a test with four windmills. We are late. There are many more aspects to consider, but it is an exciting proposal. And it appears to have garnered enough support. We have to get down to work, and urgently. We cannot be stopped even by the political process in which we are immersed. We need new instruments, but also a perspective that is 100% new, which we can create from today.