Claiming budget cuts, Spain’s ruling conservative party has once again kneecapped solar, this time, it is advanced concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies research at the world famous solar research lab Plataforma Solar de Almería (PSA) in the Tabernas region of Spain, part of the Center for Energy, Environment and Technological Research (CIEMAT).
PSA is not funded by Spain. The European Union funds most of its work.
As a world famous research center in advanced concentrated solar thermal power, PSA receives international grants and manages high-budget international projects funded well outside of Spain’s national budget. The research at PSA, along with other national labs like DLR in Germany and NREL and Sandia in the USA, has played a big part in reducing CSP prices to this year’s record lows. PSA is not funded by Spain.
(I’ve covered some of the groundbreaking CSP research carried out at PSA, like making oxygen and water on the moon by splitting molecules in a thermochemical reaction)
Under the ruling, the Ministry of Finance and Public Administration blocked PSA from buying any equipment and slashed by 40% the allowable number of researchers (again, paid independently of Spain) starting in the new year, regardless of the independence of its funding.
The ruling conservative Partido Popular claimed the ruling was aimed at reducing Spain’s public deficit, despite the fact that there will be no impact on Spain’s budget by stymying this funded solar research. Ministerial decision HAP/1169/2016 was published in July 2016, after the conservative party was narrowly re elected in what Spanish renewable experts described as bad news for Spain’s renewable sector.
Mariano Rajoy has been Prime Minister since 2011. In January 2012, his government cancelled the feed-in tariff program implemented in 2007, ending new CSP projects in Spain. In 2013, the government reneged on the terms of previously signed solar contracts (some of which is now being overturned by courts after international support for the solar industry). Then in 2015, the same ruling conservative Spanish government blocked rooftop solar.
On Friday, solar supporters mounted a petition against the ruling at change.org, receiving almost 18,000 signatures overnight.
In response to questioning, Andrés García Lorca, the local representative of Government in Almería where PSA is located, tried to downplay the problem. He told VOA that the Government, through the State Secretariat for Research, Development and Innovation, does have plans to address a “legal solution” for the Plataforma Solar de Almería in view of the “spending restrictions it suffers due to the regulations regarding the reduction of the public deficit that hinder its activity in R & D despite the use of funds from its own activity.”
Garcia Lorca acknowledged the request made by the PSA to be reasonable. “They are right to some extent,” he said. “They have a mechanism of operation different from the rest of the Administration.”
But he appeared to believe that the issue was merely lack of speedy decision-making by the Spanish government. The existing control system “hinders a bit” those agencies that “need a different processing speed.”
But according to PSA management, they have attempted to reverse the ruling through official channels privately for over a year with no response. On Friday they turned to change.org to attempt to get a response via public pressure.
Garcia Lorca said that this issue takes time, and downplayed the ill effects, saying that PSA solar thermal concentration research is in no way at risk, as petitioners claim.
Yet he simultaneously appeared to backtrack on the acknowledgement of PSA’s funding being outside of Spain’s budget. “We must reconcile the general interest and control that the State must exercise over public resources,” he said. Nevertheless he expressed the hope that the restrictions to which the expenditure is subject would be resolved “within days.”
In the past, Spain’s government has responded to public pressure regarding similarly anti-solar rulings.
If you’d like to see advanced CSP research continue in thermal solar storage and energy and thermochemical solar fuels, it is worth a quick click to add your name to the petition at change.org:
Susan Kraemer covers CSP innovation for SolarPACES, the international association of national research laboratories advancing the form of solar that can generate its own power at night and supply solar heat at up to 1500 C to drive thermochemical reactions for solar fuels.