The Balearic Islands defy climate change with the first hydrogen plant in southern Europe
Pioneer in the regulation of measures against climate change, the first photovoltaic park with social participation, an island -Sa Dragonera- completely decarbonised. The Balearic Islands walk with a firm step in its objective of reaching the energy self-sufficiency and disassociate itself from fossil fuels, and, with this determination, this week it took another step: the start-up in Mallorca of the first green hydrogen plant in the entire State with an eye toward positioning Spain as the renewable hydrogen hub benchmark in southern Europe. The project plans to be replicated, in addition, in five other EU islands, in Chile and in Morocco.
These are measures with which the archipelago wants to break with its high external dependence on energy - the islands import 96% of the energy they consume and the energy bill is estimated at around 1,000 million euros, 3.8% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-, a circumstance to which is added the fact of presenting the highest ratio of private cars per inhabitant -909.55 per thousand people in 2021, according to data from the Balearic Institute of Statistics- and being the island territory with the highest tourist intensity index in the world, according to a report prepared by researchers Carles Manera, Ferran Navinés and Elisabeth Valle, with the consequent high consumption of resources and use of infrastructures.
For all these reasons, and given the vulnerability of the islands to the impact of climate change, the Balearic Government decided to approve on February 12, 2019 a precursor regulation at national and European level: the Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition. Under the umbrella of this regulation, with which it is intended to ensure that in 2050 the islands are free of fossil fuels, the regional Executive launched, among other measures, the Balearic Institute of Energy (IBE), through which the Autonomous Community began to sell at the end of last year, at cost price, the first renewable kW with the installation of photovoltaic panels in public buildings to generate energy and feed the needs of the most vulnerable families in the area.
Now, a new project joins the battery of initiatives deployed in the Balearic Islands in its journey towards energy democratisation: the first renewable hydrogen industrial plant in Spain, which has taken shape on the land occupied by an old cement factory - Cemex - in the Majorcan municipality of Lloseta, and which constitutes the first Mediterranean project that has received European funding for its execution -10 million euros of the almost 50 that the project has mobilized in total-. The president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, valued this project as "a great example" in the fight against climate change.
In this regard, the general director of the Institute for the Diversification and Saving of Energy (IDAE), dependent on the Ministry for the Ecological Transition, Joan Groizard underlines, in statements to elDiario.es that, given the markedly innovative and pioneering nature of this project, "it can be said that the Balearic Islands are an example in promoting renewable hydrogen". "For now, this industrial plant, unique in southern Europe, is going to contribute to the self-sufficiency and energy security of the Balearic Islands," says the Majorcan, who emphasizes that this experience "will serve as a mirror for other islands that share the vision of the decarbonization of its territory”.
Groizard points out, in fact, that the characteristics that have led the Lloseta plant to opt for European investment lie, on the one hand, in the fact that the entire hydrogen value chain has been integrated into the project -production, compression, distribution and use-, and, on the other, that it is 100% renewable, that it is located in an insular environment and that it has had many partners for its design, construction, start-up and operation.
Specifically, the infrastructure has been materialized through Power to Green Hydrogen Mallorca, the cornerstone of the European Green Hysland project, which is coordinated by Enagás and promoted by Cemex, Acciona and the IDAE. With Mallorca as a point of reference, this European initiative seeks to deploy the necessary infrastructure for the production of green hydrogen from solar energy and its distribution to end users such as tourism and the island's transport, industrial and energy sectors.
The first green hydrogen molecules were produced last December and, since then, the plant has continued to carry out tests with a view to generating, once at full capacity, 300 tons of green hydrogen per year from photovoltaic panels, which will mean reduce CO₂ emissions by up to 21,000 tons per year. Thus, the green hydrogen produced at the Lloseta plant is expected to function as fuel for the buses of the Municipal Transport Company (EMT) of Palma and also as a source of heat and energy for commercial and public buildings and as an auxiliary energy supply for ferries and port operations.
The experience is expected to be extrapolated to five other European island territories: Tenerife, Madeira (Portugal), Aran (Ireland), the Greek Islands and Ameland (Netherlands), as well as Chile and Morocco.
The project, however, has also received criticism from environmental groups such as the Balearic Ornithology Group (GOB), one of the platforms dedicated for several decades to improving and conserving the environmental conditions of the archipelago. According to this entity, the Green Hydrogen Mallorca project is “the umpteenth case of 'green washing' or 'greenwashing' in which, behind a modern name and a green label, the aim is to continue millionaire businesses at the cost of destroying the environment natural". "If before they did it to make cement, now it will be to make hydrogen," they criticize from the entity, lamenting that "the same big companies that have caused it want to make us believe that they are fighting climate change."
From the Government, however, they refute such claims. The Vice President of the Balearic Executive and Minister of Energy Transition, Productive Sectors and Democratic Memory, Juan Pedro Yllanes, points out that the Lloseta plant occupies a warehouse that was part of the Cemex cement factory and explains that it "uses 75% of technology manufactured in Spain, is powered by two photovoltaic plants that occupy scarce land -one of them located, moreover, on land that was previously classified as industrial-, makes minimal use of a well whose water is not even suitable for irrigation nor for human consumption, and it means using 10% of the amount of water used by the cement plant for industrial use.”
“In this process of reindustrialization, without a doubt, we have clearly advanced from a polluting industry to a non-polluting one and from an industry that used many more natural resources to one that practically only uses sunlight. Therefore, I believe that in this case the criticisms are not justified”, affirms Yllanes, who celebrates that the EU has taken into account the special situation of Mallorca “in the western Mediterranean, zone zero of climate change”.
The person in charge of Energy Transition also underlines that the Balearic Islands "will be a mirror in which other Autonomous Communities will be able to look at themselves". “We come from worse numbers than other autonomies but I think that the boost we are giving both to photovoltaics and to shared self-consumption and energy communities make us an example and a demonstration that we are very clear that renewables must be promoted in the islands”, abounds.
For his part, Groizard asserts that there are currently sectors "difficult to electrify and, therefore, difficult to decarbonise" such as industry or heavy transport. In these scenarios, he asserts that renewable hydrogen, as an energy vector capable of being produced with renewable energy, appears as the "most promising" option. "With the Lloseta project we make sure that this hydrogen is 100% renewable and we displace polluting fossil consumption", he abounds.
In line with what Yllanes pointed out, Groizard points out that the new plant uses 90% less of the water consumed by the cement plant, while generating "more and higher quality employment", in addition to having a strategy "to distribute wealth with local agents that includes, among other actions, the donation of solar modules for municipal self-consumption”.
Ecologists in Action have also been severely critical of the projects that public administrations and energy companies are developing in the field of green hydrogen: “Countries are not the only ones interested in playing a leading role in the energy transition. The promotion and development of the hydrogen market is being carried out hand in hand with the large fossil and energy companies and lobbies with the clear objective of maintaining their power quotas and their profit ratios”, the entity points out in its report 'Hydrogen : the new panacea?'.
However, Groizard refutes such claims: "Sometimes, the belief is spread that these new and important developments are going to benefit only large corporations, but this is not the case." He emphasizes that, in the case of Lloseta, there has been the collaboration of up to 30 actors from the private and public sectors, large companies and local SMEs: "We must not forget that for the promotion and development of renewable hydrogen, from the Administration we have launched public participation processes, through the Manifestations of Interest, to meet the agents and find out first-hand how the sector is developing”.
The general director specifies that local labor has been used entirely for the construction of the plant, while the facilities have been developed with 100% European technology, of which 70% comes from Spanish companies, among which stand out Hiperbaric, from Burgos, in charge of the compressor, and Calvera, from Aragon, which has developed the hydrogen plant.
Finally, the head of the IDAE recalls that the project was born "in the context of a crisis, derived from the cessation of the cement activity", which has led the companies to respond to the call of the administration, supporting, influencing, an initiative that “exemplifies the policy of decarbonization and green reindustrialization”. “This is an almost non-existent market, in a very incipient stage. The Lloseta plant is the first industrial plant in southern Europe, and therefore in Spain, so it is very difficult and risky to predict what the market will be like”, he concludes.