Do we renew the country? The energy transition and the territorial question

The energy transition as an opportunity.

Article by Joan López, member of the Group of Studies on Energy, Territory and Society (Gurb) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).

Catalonia is immersed in an energy transition that should lead it, in a few decades, to a change of model based on four fundamental pillars: the reduction of final energy consumption based on savings and efficiency; the use of electricity practically as the only source of secondary energy; the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable sources of primary energy (solar, wind, geothermal, tidal or others that add to traditional hydraulics), and the replacement of a centralized management model by another generation distributed that not only brings the generation infrastructures closer to the points of consumption, but also gives citizens back control and management of their energy.

This transition, generalizable to the rest of the world, is necessary to combat the impacts caused by the hegemonic energy model today, based on the consumption of fossil fuels, such as air, soil and water pollution; climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, or the appearance of serious inequalities, both locally and on a global scale, in access to energy. But, in addition, it is also unavoidable, given the depletion of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium in the coming decades.

Most of the territories around us have begun, with more or less intensity, this transition process and, apart from the diverse potential of renewable resources in each case (solar radiation, wind, etc.), they all face the same economic difficulties , technological or availability of the necessary materials. In Catalonia, important steps have been taken in recent years to facilitate this transition. From the first maps of wind and solar potential to the configuration of a legal framework that combines the interests of the multiple agents involved and, most recently, the preparation of an Energy Outlook for Catalonia, which lays the foundations for the future 100% scenario renewable in Catalonia.

The truth is, however, that Catalonia shows a certain delay in the development of the energy transition, by comparison both with the majority of the Spanish autonomous communities and with other European countries. An example is the fact that, while in Catalonia, the power installed for the generation of electricity from wind and solar energy represents 13.4% of the total, in the rest of the communities it reaches 46 %, on average. This situation has caused numerous voices to call for accelerating the energy transition in Catalonia, so as to place it at the levels of renewable generation of its neighbours. Without ceasing to recognize this urgency, it is necessary, however, to identify the causes of this delay.

It is possible that the delay responds to the lack of initiative, to the difficulties of understanding between the agents involved or to the lack of agility of the administrations. But it is also possible that in Catalonia special importance is being given to the debate that has arisen around the energy transition. This is not a debate about the convenience or not of the transition but, having assumed that it is necessary and understood its indisputable benefits, about the need to ensure that this transition benefits society as a whole and, above all, future generations. In other words, that it is environmentally sustainable, socially fair, territorially balanced and economically viable.

In the light of the first indicators, the debate seems justified. In 2020, 53% of the power installed in Catalonia for the generation of wind and photovoltaic electricity was concentrated in six regions where, on the other hand, only 3.5% of the Catalan population resided. This power, moreover, mainly corresponded to large solar and wind farms (96%) and only a small part to self-consumption installations (4%). These parks, apart from their impact on the landscape, occupied large areas of land, often of high agricultural or forestry value: 96% of the surface occupied by the solar parks had previously been farmland, much of it irrigate In the case of self-consumption facilities, their impact on the environment is significantly lower, but their use seems to be reserved, for the moment, for the wealthiest strata of the population: between 10% of the population with higher income, the number of photovoltaic self-consumption installations is 2.69 per 1,000 inhabitants; for the 10% with lower income, this ratio is reduced to 0.07.

So, the concern for this development seems to justify the debate and the consequent delay of the energy transition in Catalonia compared to its neighbours. And, at the same time, it allows us to interpret this delay as an opportunity to plan the transition in a way that listens to the various voices that warn of the irreversible impacts of a hasty transition, that demand to take into consideration all the environmental, social and economic vectors who are affected by it, or who look to make the interests of all agents compatible based on a fairer distribution of the burdens and benefits that this transition entails.

The sectorial territorial plan for the implementation of renewable energies in Catalonia, which is now in the drafting phase, has the responsibility of responding to these requirements. If its preparation takes time, those who criticize the administrations and society as a whole for their slowness will have to be justified. But if, in a relatively short period of time, it is able to propose an orderly transition, comprehensive and open to participation, we can talk about a Catalan model of energy transition. A sensible model, away from precipitation and, in short, that frames the energy transition in a wider process of ecological transition.


The author of the article reflects on the energy transition as an opportunity after moderating the debate "Renew the country? The energy transition and the territorial issue" within the cycle The Transformation of the City, which is organized by the Catalunya Europa Foundation , the La Caixa Foundation and the Club of Rome, and the Catalan Land Planning Society, with the support of the AMB, the Provincial Council of Barcelona, ??the Barcelona City Council, the Santa Coloma de Gramenet City Council and the Prat de Llobregat Town Council.


You can read the chronicle of the debate here.