Sometimes it feels like the world is asleep and not jumping on the tremendous potential of low-cost solar power and low-cost wind power to stop global heating and catastrophic climate change. Sometimes you want to jump up and clap with enthusiasm at strong actions moving us forward. Luckily, this story should lead to the clapping.
Spain just closed down 7 of its remaining 15 coal power plants on June 30. That’s a flick of the switch (or something a few switches perhaps) and 47% of the country’s coal power plant capacity was shut down. And more will shut down soon.
End of Coal
Of course, this was years in the making. Spain built renewable energy power plants that allowed for this. Also, the European Union broke through the country’s coal and utility lobby to not allow corporate welfare to steal progress from the people of Spain. State aid to save coal mines was deemed illegal and EU regulations requiring that old coal plants be cleaned led to utilities deciding it just wasn’t worth the money to keep them open — upgrading coal plants to make them less dirty was too expensive.
In addition to the 7 coal power plants just shut down, 4 more are being prepped for shutdown and permission to shut down has been requested, making that a 73% cut in its coal power plant fleet and leaving only 4 left — the semifinals of polluting, cancer-causing coal power plants in Spain.
Regarding the shutdowns, El País notes that the Spanish government seems to have had little to do with the early closure, adding that the government would’t even commit to a phaseout year with an alliance of other countries (even though, apparently, Spain would easily meet the target). “Several of these power stations have not been producing electricity for months because it is no longer profitable due to a combination of market conditions and political decisions by the European Commission, which is the executive branch of the EU.”
In 2018, two short years ago, almost 15% of Spain’s electricity came from coal and coal accounted for ~15% of Spain’s CO2 emissions. In May, coal contributed a measly (but still too high) 1.4% of the country’s electricity. Furthermore, 4 of the coal power plants that are shutting down hadn’t produced any electricity this year. Pro tip: It’s hard to make money on a coal power plant when it’s not producing electricity.
When Does Spain Hit 100% Renewable Electricity?
It’s unclear how long the remaining 4 coal power plants will be in operation, but it’s safe to say Spain will be one of the first countries (or the first country) to shut down a decently sized fleet of coal power plants. There are several countries that are already at or near 100% renewable electricity, but they typically rely heavily on hydropower and have for a long time.
Spain does still have sizable fleet of natural gas power plants, so the party isn’t over yet — or isn’t started yet (I’m not sure of the best metaphor here). We’ll keep you informed as more progress is made.
In 2018 we reported that Spain was considering a target of 70% renewable electricity in 2030 and 100% by 2030. Renewables provided 46% of Spain’s electricity needs in the first half of 2018.
Electric Cars in Spain Even Greener
One thing this coal shutdown means is that it has gotten greener and greener to drive an electric car in Spain. Spain’s EV sales are moderate — or you could say weak in such a hit European EV market — with just 3.7% of auto sales in the first 5 months of the year being plug-in vehicles, and only 1.9% fully electric vehicles, according to EV Volumes. But expect the market to grow quickly as it has in other countries. Electric cars only get cheaper, better, and more competitive by the day. It’s already cheaper to operate an electric Uber than a diesel one in Madrid, and many drivers should soon realize that.
Volkswagen Group’s WeShare electric carsharing program is also entering Spain this year, starting in Madrid.
With the competitive pricing and better performance of electric vehicles for services like Uber, I expect cities in Madrid and elsewhere to soon be full electric electric vehicles running our their streets. We’ll keep you informed.