Spanish renewable power giant Iberdrola has completed work on what it claims is the largest solar project ever built in Europe.

The 500-megawatt Núñez de Balboa facility is now undergoing testing with Spanish grid operator Red Eléctrica de España (REE) and is expected to be in full commercial operation this quarter.

Europe's previous largest project was the 300-megawatt Cestas, built by Neoen in the south of France. But the latest record might not stand for long with Iberdrola planning the 590-megawatt Francisco Pizarro project in Spain. Completion is expected in 2022.

Iberdrola, among the world's largest wind generators, has a series of power-purchase agreements (PPAs) in place for Núñez de Balboa. These include a 10-year deal with Kutxabank to power its operations. Telecommunications firm Euskaltel and the Uvesco supermarket chain are also signed up.

Modules for the project were supplied by a trio of Chinese manufacturers: Suntech, Longi and GCL-SI. The total investment for the entire project was €290 million ($325 million).

All of the financing was provided the European Investment Bank and the Instituto de Crédito Oficial, a Spanish state-owned bank.

Iberdrola is planning to install 3,000 megawatts of solar capacity in Spain by 2022 and a total of 10 gigawatts of renewables by 2030. The company is active in a variety of renewable markets around the world, including the U.S., where it is among the country's largest wind operators through its Avangrid subsidiary.

Spanish solar rebound

Spain is experiencing a surge in solar development, largely driven by PPAs and other post-subsidy routes to market. The late-stage project pipeline at the end of 2019 was nudging 9 gigawatts, according to Wood Mackenzie.

Spain’s solar market has been the focus of massive speculation, with REE canceling 20.5 gigawatts of grid applications that were not progressing. Developers cite the grid queue as the major roadblock to further progress in the country.

In addition to the previous size record holder, the 300-megawatt Cestas plant in France, a series of similarly sized projects are going through a lengthy national planning process in the U.K. The largest subsidy-free project, also in Spain, was BayWa r.e.’s Don Rodrigo site weighing in at 175 megawatts.

As Europe’s solar market shifts away from subsidies, developers are increasingly chasing the lowest levelized cost of electricity and looking to exploit economies of scale. Where subsidized projects are typically a few dozen megawatts in Europe, an increasing number of triple-digit capacities are appearing in project pipelines.

In th U.K., the Cleve Hill development will link a 300-megawatt solar park with substantial energy storage. The Little Crow Solar Park is slated to reach 150 megawatts. The U.K.’s largest subsidy-free project is the 50-megawatt site at Staughton.

EnBW has approved a 180-megawatt subsidy-free project in Germany.

Total solar installations in Europe doubled in 2019 compared to the previous year, with further growth anticipated, according to research by SolarPower Europe. In the trade group's most optimistic scenario, 2019’s tally of 16.7 gigawatts could double to 35 gigawatts in 2022.


Wood Mackenzie will host a webinar on 15 January 2020 on Europe's energy transition. To attend, register here.