back to article Sunny Spain suspends solar subsidy scam

Dead broke Spain can't afford to prop up renewables anymore. The Spanish government is cutting the numbers of hours in a day it's prepared to pay for "clean" energy. Estimates put the investment in solar energy in Spain at €18bn - but the investment was predicated, as it is with all flakey renewables, on taxpayer subsidies. …


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  1. Blake St. Claire

    "flushed" down the bath[tub]?

    I remember enough of my Spanglish to think it might be flushed down the inodoro.

    Unless you're one of those guys who pee in the shower.

    1. fandom

      You are being too correct

      It's down the 'water'.

      One of those english words we use with a different meaning, like footing (=jogging) or smoking(=tuxedo).

      1. Blake St. Claire

        flushing down the water?

        Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.

        You must speak different Spanish than what I learned in school.

        Agua == water.

        Idiomatic expressions aside and all that.

        1. captain veg Silver badge

          idiotomatic expression

          He means that Spanish people literally say "water" (probably pronounced "vater"), not the Castilian translation. The French do it too. it's short for "water closet".


  2. Number6

    Hole in the Ground

    The hole in the ground might at least be useful, as discussed by Bernard Cribbins once. Just make sure that before filluing the hole, there's a worthy bureaucrat at the bottom.

    1. Ray Simard

      @Hole in the ground

      or a lawyer.

  3. peter-

    Careful throwing stones here, are we?

    It's pretty normal and expectable that an industry hit by cutbacks is making noise.

    Then again paying out subsidies to something that you think is important for your countries' future is a normal thing as well. You can well argue they're spending less on subsidizing fossil fuels, but then again these are known to be on the way out and are mostly produced outside Spain.

    However if you do look at the history of Spanish owned petrol group Repsol YPF and their success in Spain and Latin america you will find that back in the old days this was enabled by... subsidies!

    I think there are certainly worse things to spend money on than renewables. Anyway, this is a politics question and it was on the agenda when this government was voted into office.

    Now if we look at the tone in which you ridicule "dead broke Spain" shall we remember that the UK has both a larger annual deficit and total debt? And yes, we're talking percentages of GDP already, so the UK's stronger economy is already factored in.

  4. The Cube

    Hang on

    Does that mean that the "average subsidy per worker" in spain is $352,000?

    If so that might explain where all the EU money that makes it past MEP expenses and the French farmers goes...

    Does Spain have any workers who actually make money or do all of them require government subsidy to stay "employed". This may be the most expensive UB40 in Europe!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Generates solar electricity at night

    It doesn't take much of an IQ[1] to realise that when you get paid more to squirt electricity back into the grid than you shell out to buy it in the first place, that the best way to make money is to take a wire from your mains outlet and feed it back in through your "solar" credit meter (OK, a little more complex than that). Result: free cash.

    However it does rather take the wotsit when you do that at night. Even though it took the spanish authorities a while to realise that their expensively subsidised solar arrays were running on moonlight.

    It's a shame that all this entrepreneurial creativity can't be harnessed to actually producing stuff the country can sell, but I suppose when the controls are as lax as this, you can't really blame the solar people for taking advantage.

    [1] though apparently more of an IQ than the people who dreamed up this scheme could muster.

    1. Random_Walk

      Depending, but...

      The biggest reasons for the whole subsidy/tariff plan is two-fold:

      - renewables (of any type) reduces dependence on imported energy sources (oil, coal, whatever)

      - most renewables cost a LOT when first introduced into a market.

      The second part (at least insofar as solar) is changing rapidly. Thanks to a glut of PV panels on the market, solar is costing manufacturers around ~$1.50 USD / Wp (on average). It used to cost $5 USD per watt, and in the early 1980's, the figures reached horrendous heights. By end-of-year, PV* production should cost around $0.75 - $1.45 USD / Wp, depending on quality (the lower end being thin-film, the upper mono/polycrystal silicon - you get what you pay for, though).

      * For everyone else: PV = Photovoltaic :)

      Now note that these costs are rapidly approaching the cost of oil-produced energy, and IIRC is below the cost of wind-generation, which is also dropping. As economies of scale kick in, things get even cheaper. Currently, there are but a handful of facilities capable of producing at least 500MW worth of panels per year - a couple in the EU, one in the Western Hemisphere (come Q3 - and that corp is German-owned), and I think one or two in Asia. In the next five years, I suspect that the total number of factories at this level of output will double, perhaps triple (though the majority will likely be in Asia).

      At that point, PV solar should be cheap enough to install that tariffs (the official term for "subsidy" in most countries) will be largely unnecessary in most nations (depending on energy costs, etc).

      Now for some irony. The Spanish PV guys are whining, but even now, Germany is beginning to drop theirs. Now for the funny part - the big German solar manufacturers: Q-Cells and SolarWorld AG stand out -- they are #2 and #3 in the world, respectively -- really aren't seeing problems with Merkel cutting back the solar tariff in their own stomping grounds (now mind you, the German PV market is pretty saturated, but still...)

      Long story short - the big boys aren't seeing too much problem with the state of tariffs. Sure, they'd love to see them - it only boosts sales. OTOH, they've figured it into their projections and can survive regardless, given the momentum that PV solar has gained, and is continuing to gain.

      Not sure about wind - I don't hang around that segment ( I do however hang around the Solar bits of the renewables industry... far too much, methinks :) ).

  6. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Dead Vulture

    Fair and balanced?

    While I agree that most solar energy subsidies are grossly excessive the report neglects that most energy production enjoys subsidy of one form of another. Does your economist have the figures for the cost per employee of the nuclear subsidy?

    Economically Spain's subsidy of electricity consumption through price controls is probably an even bigger burden but politically more difficult to remove.

    As to the reference about digging and filling holes - this is perfectly good economics cf. both deforestation and subsequent reforestation be counted as growth. Doesn't make it sensible but it is good economics.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      deforestation and reforestation can be very profitable - just like growing crops, you grow a forest, you cut it down to make paper/chairs/etc you then plant a forest, you then move to the forest you grew a year later then the one you just cut down and start again...

      Very sensible, I think you don't know much about making money.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Making money

        The problem is the disjoin between economic growth and finite resources.

        X - X + X gets treated as 2X

        I don't think this is sensible but it is economical which is where you get your money from.

        1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Making money

          Finite resources?

          Like wood and whaleblubber? You're right - we're doomed when they run out.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Job subsidies

    You might want to talk to Lewis about how much taxpayers money it costs for a job in the defence sector. I suspect it makes the renewables sector look small fry.

    1. Keith Wingate
      Thumb Up

      If energy must pay it's way, what about transport? Or public health?

      The next time you get on a bus, or use the underground, or use your National Health service (if you're lucky enough to live in a country that has one), you might want to rethink this notion that each and every transaction must be a profitable one for the provider of the good or service.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Solar isn't ready

    As far as I know, no one has made a solar energy system that puts out more power than it took to make and run it, at least not on a scale where its useful. Spain has massive amounts of sunshine, but even with mirrors and boilers rather than crappy cells, the returns over lifetime are marginal once maintenance is allowed for.

    On the other hand, what's the alternative? Cheaper systems that pollute more? Nuclear? It's not all about cash in hand, although in a banking crisis (let's not forget that this is a BANKing crisis we're in) cash in the hand speaks a lot louder than clean air 10 years away.

  9. Apocalypse Later

    The real problem here... that all the other voters are stupid (other than me and you that is). They will continue to elect do-gooders with crank agendas on the basis of their apparently sincere good intent, without any examination of the practicality of the scheme or consideration of the possible unintended side effects.

    On top of that, in Britain we don't even realize that we are paying for the foolishness because the subsidies have been stealthed. Instead of directly throwing taxpayer's money at the wind farmers, the green leaning labour politicians have required the privatized electricity suppliers to buy a percentage of their power from "renewable" sources whatever the price. This is similar to the wheeze by which they destroyed the private rental market in the 60s and 70s, by legislating more and more rights for tenants until no one would rent properties anymore. Buying votes with other people's money only works for a while, how long will buying green votes by putting up every voter's electricity bill work?

  10. Richard Jukes

    ah well

    Not looking good for the UK wind farms is it? Spiffing. Nuclear power here we go!

  11. zxcvbnm

    Better yet

    Better were the stories that Spain did not notice it was paying for Solar power generated at night. Presumably with the help of a diesel generator.

  12. BigFire
    Thumb Down

    The subsidy was so out of line

    that it makes financial sense to hook up arc light and shine on the solar panel, indoor. Hell, one of these cheaters was caught only because he let his diesel generator that's tied to the 'green grid' to run day and night.

  13. frank 3

    Sending our lads die in the desert once a decade is so much more efficient

    Remind me: how much did the last 3 middle-east wars cost us again?

    The ones which absolutely, positively were not about oil.

    When criticising renewables for requiring subsidy, please at least compare like with like.

    Our middle-east policy is a direct subsidy to the oil industry and you should explicitly factor that in to your sums, as you should the external costs of fossil fuels (the ones that BP are being so forcibly reminded of right now at the rate of 5,000 bpd).

    There are other external costs, of course, like those 25,000-50,000 annual premature deaths (source below) from urban air pollution caused primarily by combustion by-products like airborne particulates. Last time I checked, solar didn't cause any of those. Again, a direct externalisation of costs. What's the cost of long term chronic respiratory diseases to the NHS and in lost productivity?

    Of course fossil fuels are cheap: none of the costs are built into the price.

    Your ire would be better directed at the crappy state of affairs that allows this gross state of affairs to continue.


    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      spoilt it right at the end

      the only thing that loses you credibility faster than quoting wikipedia as a reference to back up a position is quoting the Daily Wail. Now I realise I just wasted a minute reading your words. (and another minute responding to them)

    2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Sending our lads die in the desert once a decade is so much more efficient


      "Of course fossil fuels are cheap: none of the costs are built into the price."

      Yes they are, they're called externalities and they're priced into the cost. You must be the only person in Britain who doesn't realise that most of what you pay for petrol is tax.

      So do spare us the emotive bollocks and 13-year old's attempt Noam Chomskyisms, if you can't get the basics right.

  14. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Sending our lads die in the desert once a decade is so much more efficient

    And don't forget that each 15K/year squaddie creates 3x30K/year jobs at BAe - of course it also costs a million quid/job in defence subsidies but at least we get some amazing products out of it.

    If a destroyer with no weapons and a jump jet that melts the carrier's deck isn't amazing I don't know what is !

  15. Phil Endecott

    Solar in Spain? Surely not.

    Last time I was in Spain, I remember madly climbing up to some ancient fortress viewpoint "in the midday sun" and looking down at the roofs of the city below, and being astonished that there were only about two solar hot water systems amongst all the thousands of buildings.

    Sure, photovoltaic is uneconomic compared to the current cost of fossil fuels. But in a city like Malaga, solar hot water is a no-brainer. Yet the energy project that was in the news when I was there was the construction of an undersea pipeline to get gas from N. Africa.

  16. Kit Temple

    Price Drops

    Solar prices have been dropping fast. Panel prices dropped well over 50% since late 08.

    The German government who have been guiding the industry towards lower prices year by year were caught by surprise and had to quickly vote in an additional subsidy price cut on top of their usual yearly subsidy drops this year. So the industry's prices have been dropping more quickly than experts had originally predicted.

    Every year machines get cheaper, wafers get thinner, efficiencies go up, silicon gets cheaper to produce etc.

    Subsidies mean the industry gets to the point of being cost competitive against traditional energy more quickly. The subsidies wouldn't be there if the industry didn't keep moving forwards.

    To the point someone made about total cost of energy to make vs. output:

    A) The equation changes dramatically as efficiencies of cells and machines improve year by year. I'm not sure how old the equation you saw is...

    b) Panels last a lot longer than people expect. Those made 30 years ago are still working very well. Calculations have taken a much shorter period of time into account

  17. Anonymous Coward

    The UK has the same system

    The UK also has a feed in tariff system. I'm being paid 41.3p per Kw/h for everything I generate and I get to use it for free. If I feed it back into the grid I get another 6p or so.

    The tariff is linked to inflation and will last for the next 25 years.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: The UK has the same system

      "I'm being paid 41.3p per Kw/h for everything I generate"

      You lucky ducky! It's another middle-class subsidy - "extortionate, useless and deeply regressive" - described nicely here:

      "and will last for the next 25 years."

      I wouldn't bet on it lasting another 5 years.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All the porkbarreling, Spain can do better

    Wouldn't it be a more sensible idea to spin off an investment company with a clear mandate to invest in /this/ list of desirable goals, and do away with subsidies?

    Then again, I also sometimes wonder if it wouldn't be easier to give each person in the country their fair share right away. Or, you know, just not raise the tax in the first place. But making sense is something governments are incapable of doing. Well, maybe we can stuff'em in a spaceship or something.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Errr .... factually incorrect about renewables costing that much more!

    The deal we have today with the coal/gas/oil is one from history. A few million years ago these wee animals and plants lived, they died, and their decomposing bodies over many millions of years became the fuel we use today. This 'carbon' and other nasties from rotten dead things is histories global warming and pollution that never happened, but was contained.

    If we dig up and burn these rotten corpses, we release the poison and global warming into our century. This is simple stuff I hope the author can understand.

    Now here comes the rub....

    For the last few hundred years we have been doing the above, and it all seemed fine, until a bunch of these damn green people discovered the bit about smoke not just being coloured air, but full of nasty things we humans and animals and plants don't like so much (its know as poison) and then there is the global warming issue still to contend with!

    So, for these couple of hundred years we just burnt the stuff and were superbly happy about it and thought *bollocks to cleaning it up*.

    If today we clean up this mess we make, coal,gas,oil would become prohibitively expensive. Fortunately we don't, so that's why its all cheap. Phew!

    However, the 'renewables' currently take into account most of their 'clean-up', by not creating the poison and pollution today for another generation to deal with. This offsets the costs from tomorrows generations to our own - and rightfully so.

    Though it still peeves me that we have to now pay for what Edison and his chums began.

    So if all things were equal, the dirty energy we rely on today - if we cleaned up the mess after using it, your £1.20 a litre of petrol is likely to be £5 or £10 a litre, making it comparable with these 'clean' things.

    The reality is we simply don't clean up after using these dirty fuels as much as we should.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)


      Too simple by half, Colin.

      "If we dig up and burn these rotten corpses, we release the poison and global warming into our century. This is simple stuff I hope the author can understand."

      Dearie me. You're referring to externalities, and in a very emotive and childlike way. We consider fossil fuels to be worth the cost, because they're a fantastic energy source that has been our stepping stone into a modern industrial society. We wouldn't have got the baby incubators and penicillin, and lower infant mortality rates, without this infrastructure.

      So ou really should say a little thank-you prayer to fossil fuels.

      "it still peeves me that we have to now pay for what Edison and his chums began."

      You and only a few other (privileged) people. The problem is not enough have access to it. Try asking expressing your view in Africa.

  20. archengel46
    Thumb Up

    Isn't it about using what resources you've got?

    Spain is a country with high amounts of solar power and little in the way of fossil fuels. Before this, there wasn't technology to get power out of the sun, and hence the fossil fuel infrastructure was built (will someone tell me that it was without subsidies?)... Now that there is a way to avoid paying fuel bills, and hence the government is trying to build up another energy infrastructure with subsidies...

    I might have missed the point somewhere, if so, pray let me know.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    It gets better ..Don Corleone Energy strikes back

    Seems the bent Spanish energy companies didn't enjoy their little theft generation schemes being exposed.

    So what did they do?

    Send an angry letter?

    Get Juan Sheet to spill some juice on his floor?

    Nope they sent Prof Calzada a bomb through the post. This time it was dismantled but it's apparently a known tactic. It's a warning that next time they send a device to you it will be live.

    Nice people these Greenies.

    Hope they were green enough to use recycled bomb components!

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