Open Data, Circular Economy and the Spanish energy sector in 2017

Sustainable supply chain management practices have recently been developed, which intending to integrate environmental concerns into organizations by reducing unintended negative environmental consequences triggered by production and consumption processes. At the same time, the Circular Economy (CE) pushes the frontiers of environmental sustainability emphasizing the idea of transforming products, so that there are workable relationships between ecological systems and economic growth. In this context, the exchange of information across the supply chain is essential, to guarantee the success of both. Evaluating the Renewable energy industry in Spain provides an insight on the extent to which its underlying information framework enables the sustainability of energy production in the country.

The Open Data (OD) indicators, provide the means to assess its maturity on openness and information availability, key requirements of a successful CE to identify sustainable flows across the energy supply chain. Furthermore, the OD Initiative  ensures the correct management of information as society transitions to this new economic framework. To guarantee the success of the initiative, the EU conducts periodic evaluations on the level of improvement of Open Data Maturity in each of the EU28 countries, including Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The results for 2016 show the Spanish OD portal is one of the most mature.

In order to determine the real extent, which the Spanish RE sector is contributing to this effort, an attempt was made to answer the following question using the portal’s data:

Is the Spanish Bio-energy sector making a significant contribution to the CE efforts in Spain?

The datasets currently available in the portal do not provide the means to generate a satisfactory answer. Nevertheless, searching for information in other public data sources, such as: published research results, Spanish organizations associated to the sector but which have not yet contributed datasets to the OD portal, it was possible to generate a response.

Figure 1. Distribution of Energy sources in SPAIN – 2015. Data Source

Transport, Heating/cooling and Electricity are the 3 main forms of energy consumption in Spain and the Bio-energy sector can contribute to all of them, thereby enabling multiple opportunities to the sector for acting as a supplier of the different types of clean energy necessary (heat from burning wood, bio-digesters for electricity) to drive the Spanish economy. Having said this, the overall contribution of renewable energy to the overall demand (Figure 1) is rather small.

Figure 2. Distribution of Electricity sources in SPAIN – 2016

The use of bio-digesters have additional benefits such as enabling more effective means of reducing/reusing waste, and the reduction of  emissions/environmental impacts associated to the generation/use of energy. In spite of this, the technology is still not making a significant contribution to the supply of electricity in the country (Figure 2), so it is one area that ought to be explored further, given the significant levels of electricity consumed by the overall Spanish community.

Figure 3. Transport fuel consumption in Spain – distribution according to types. (adapted from Espejo et al., 2016)

In relation to the fuel driving the Spanish transport system, the consumption of bio-fuels reached a peak in 2012 (Figure 3) but since then there is a downward trend that should be revised. Furthermore, more recent data shows the general public is not being helped to make the transition as there are less supply points distributed around the country.

Figure 4. LCA (GWP of 1t UCO re-use, average GWP (Kgs-CO2e)). Adapted from Lombardi et al., 2017

Bio-fuels, for transport and electricity, can be produced setting aside big chunks of land to obtain the oil required – this is problematic in terms of the sustainability goals as it triggers a direct competition for land to satisfy both, the supply of food and energy, therefore it is necessary to search for alternative sources, for example the reuse of used cooking oil (UCO), after all Spain is one of the highest consumers of vegetable oil in Europe (together with Greece and Italy). It is worth mentioning the research results recently published by Lombardi et al. (2017), which show the recovery of UCO in a cogeneration plant has in general lower values in terms of environmental impacts than its employment in biodiesel production (Figure 4). When products and co-products substitution are included, the savings obtained by the substitution of conventional diesel production, in the biodiesel cases, are significantly higher than the avoided effects for electricity and heat in the cogeneration case. In particular, using UCO in the biodiesel production processes, the savings vary from 41.6 to 54.6 GJex/tUCO, together with an estimated savings of 2860 kg CO2eq per tUCO in emissions.

Conclusions

The experience of using the OD portal to assess the contribution of the bio-energy sector to the sustainability of the Spanish economy in the country has shown its data maturity regarding this type of data is not quite as high as the results of the EU portal seem to suggest.
The availability of data associated to the Energy sector, in particular the bio-energy sector, is rather poor, but we cannot hold the group in charge of the portal responsible, as its improvement in all aspects (quality, quantity, usefulness) is a responsibility of all. As far as the contribution of the bio-energy sector goes: there is a lot of work to do.
Reviewing alternative data sources have demonstrated the use of bio-energy to support Electricity generation and for Transport has a lot of potential in Spain as the sector can help the transition to a CE in different ways, although many of the paths still require significant improvement and development.
Regarding the population of the portal, the various organisms (both public and private) ought to start making explicit contributions.
They ought to put pressure on the government in helping society increase the use of bio-energy, after all recent research results seem to suggest, the use of this energy source can indeed help to drive the change required to meet the UN SDG and the transition to a C.

References

  1. APORTA (2017). Open Data portal in Spain.
  2. Espejo Marin, et al., 2016. Contribución al estudio del sector de los biocarburantes en España
  3. Instituto para la Diversificación y Ahorro de la Energía, IDAE. (2017)
  4. Lombardi, L., Mendecka, B., & Carnevale, E. 2017. Comparative life cycle assessment of alternative strategies for energy recovery from used cooking oil. Journal of Environmental Management.( http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479717304760)
  5. Open Data in Europe (2017).