Greenfield foreign direct investment (FDI) in Spain reached an all-time high in 2022, as the Iberian country pursues its ambitious goal to decarbonise its economy and become a clean energy hub.
Between January and November 2022, Spain attracted FDI projects worth an estimated $32.8bn, up by 23.9% from the same period of 2021, according to the latest figures from fDi Markets. This preliminary 2022 figure was also higher than any other calendar year on record.
The rise of Spain’s FDI in 2022 was driven primarily by renewable energy investors, who made capital pledges worth an estimated $12.5bn. They were followed by companies in the automotive OEM ($5.64bn), technology ($2.74bn) and real estate ($2.34bn) sectors. A record-breaking seven mega-projects, worth at least $1bn of capital pledges, were announced in Spain during 2022.
In November 2022, Danish container shipping company AP Moller Maersk announced it was assessing the feasibility of large-scale production of green fuels in the Andalusia and Galicia regions. If plans are implemented in full, Maersk will invest about €10bn ($10.6bn) to produce up to two millions tonnes per year of methanol using renewable energy sources for its fleet of vessels.
Ana Arias Urones, a senior advisor to Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez, told fDi that Maersk’s project could support Spain’s energy transition process by increasing its installed renewable energy capacity and realising its 2030 green hydrogen roadmap.
“We are working at great speed to remove the obstacles in the development of renewable hydrogen, which will allow us to advance in the objectives of decarbonisation,” she said. The Spanish government has allocated more than €1.5bn to invest in green hydrogen by 2030.
Despite the ambitious partnership between Maersk and the Spanish government, experts caution about uncertainty surrounding green hydrogen projects, including the complexity of regulatory approval.
“The likelihood of significant progress [in Maersk’s project] is high, but the timeline is uncertain,” said Artem Abramov, the head of Clean Tech Research at consultancy Rystad Energy.
He noted that Maersk’s project could face capital constraints due to challenging financial conditions and tightening carbon regulations, but that Spain is “particularly well positioned” to transition towards a high share of intermittent renewables and deliver on profitable green hydrogen pilot initiatives.
Spain has one of the largest renewable energy pipelines in Europe, according to Rystad Energy. Installed capacity of renewable sources is expected to grow from 64 gigawatts (GW) to 151 GW by 2030, with new solar projects driving most of this growth.
For instance, Germany-based solar park developer Vogt Solar announced in August 2022 plans to invest €118m to develop a 150-megawatt solar plant in Zamora province, northwest Spain.
Several foreign automakers also outlined Spanish plans during 2022 in line with their electrification targets. Volkswagen Group and its subsidiary Seat will invest €10bn ($10.6bn) to build a battery gigafactory in Sagunto and produce electric vehicles at its existing Martorell and Pamplona plants.
This will include a partnership with Spanish utility Iberdrola, which will build a photovoltaic plant to supply Volkswagen’s battery plant with green energy. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz Group will invest €1.2bn in its existing facilities in Vitoria-Gasteiz to begin producing its VAN.EA electric model.
Mr Abramov said that Spain has a “proven track record” on its transition to a low-carbon economy, noting that carbon dioxide emissions per capita have declined by 45% since 2005. Meanwhile, neighbouring France, as well as Germany and Italy, saw a reduction of between 25% and 41% over the same period.