“We need to accelerate electrification”

Expert Interview – October 17, 2023

In many European countries, the expansion of the power grid is just as much of an issue as the expansion of solar power generation. Curtailments – the controlled shutdown of available electric power plants – result in considerable financial loss as huge amounts of electricity are lost. Due to the lack of interconnection points, the potential of photovoltaic power plants cannot be fully realized.

At EU PVSEC 2023, which took place in Lisbon in September 2023, we spoke to José Donoso, General Director of the Spanish PV Association (UNEF) about the impact that grid deficiencies have on the development of the Spanish PV market.

Is grid congestion the main obstacle for a more widespread deployment of photovoltaics in Spain?

No. The development of the Spanish PV industry is faced with a number of major challenges. The first challenge concerns the administrative process. We’ve got PV projects with a total capacity of 38 gigawatts (GW) that have been granted environmental permits, but they need to be built within two years. That’s not enough time. We will need another two years.

Many projects will probably lose their interconnection point and not be completed if this extension is not approved. This would mean that both the companies and the authorities would have wasted their time and effort, and the ecological transition would be set back by several years.

The second challenge is public acceptance. This is a huge issue because we depend on public support. If we lose public support, we also lose political support.

And number three: Storage. We need storage and hydrogen to prevent the cannibalization of market prices.

In the face of all of these challenges, grid integration is just one more issue that we have to deal with. The availability of interconnection points is not an issue. We’ve got enough interconnection points in Spain – almost enough to meet the solar energy target of 76 gigawatt set by the National Development Plan (PND). What we do have are curtailments, two different types of curtailments: technical and economic curtailments. Technical curtailments can be resolved by upgrading power lines and infrastructure in certain places. Economic curtailments are caused by a lack of demand. To resolve the discrepancy between supply and demand, which is the cause of economic curtailments, we need to accelerate electrification.

What stands in the way of grid expansion?

It’s the lengthy administrative process, particularly when it comes to transmission lines and public acceptance.

What short-term measures does Spain need to take for a short-term solution of the current problem with its grids?

Well, first of all, given this massive investment process of 38 gigawatts that have been approved, it would be great to get an estimate from grid operators at which points they expect technical curtailments to occur and to what extent these will affect the projects to be installed. Such transparency would help assess the economic viability of a project.

Second, the power lines that have had the most problems with curtailments should be upgraded as soon as possible.

Third, we need to take a new approach to the planning of power lines. We need to adjust our approach to transmission line planning to accommodate renewables. This would require more flexibility in planning and needs would have to be updated on an annual basis. We need to move on from a static planning model to a dynamic one.

What role do curtailments play in the Spanish transmission system?

They still don’t play a very big role, but some power plants are seeing an increase in the number of curtailments.

How does the risk of curtailment affect the Spanish investment climate for PV projects?

Investment projects are on track, but the investors need more transparency. To that end, we are asking grid operators to provide us with an estimate of the number of curtailments per node, so that investors have economic data on which to base their decision.

José Donoso spoke to Sarah Hommel de Mendonça.

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