EIB financing helps Spanish conglomerate expand research while focusing on sustainable development

Spain is often associated with the sun and family holidays, but it also is the home of “Don Quixote,” Cervantes’s tale that features a landscape of windmills. Wind is still a big issue in Spain, though the technology has changed.

The country is one of the top locations in the world for wind energy. The Spanish multinational firm Acciona is heavily involved in the wind energy business at home and overseas, as part of its move into sustainable development.

Acciona’s goal is to be a leader in “the transition to a carbon-free energy model while contributing to better living standards for the communities in which we operate,” says Chief Executive José Manuel Entrecanales.

The company, which signed a EUR 100 million loan in January with the European Investment Bank, says sustainability will become more important as economic growth increases the purchasing power and living standards of people around the world, especially in developing countries. This increase will cause demand to rise for necessities such as energy and water.

Sustaining this new growth without damaging the environment will require creative solutions and huge investments in infrastructure. For Acciona, the answers are innovation and research.

With the EIB loan, Acciona is expanding its research and innovation in fields such as digitalisation, renewable energy, infrastructure and water. Increased digitalisation will make the construction and operation of Acciona’s electricity-generation plants more efficient. The company also will develop more sustainable biological water treatment and purification processes, and find new ways to recycle waste to strengthen the circular economy. Finally, the loan will help Acciona become more efficient in building environmentally friendly infrastructure.

“Our vision is to meet the challenge of achieving sustainable development in all our business areas, so that the generations of today and the future will have a better life,” Entrecanales says.

José Manuel Entrecanales, the head of Acciona, ©Acciona

Saving money with lighter construction products

Accions reckons the construction sector has a lot of catching up to do in digitalisation and innovation. One way the company is innovating is by testing prefabricated components that are lighter and less expensive to transport but still have high strength. The company built the first lighthouse in the world made of prefabricated products, in Valencia, Spain. The construction process was faster and easier, saving money and energy.

The company also wants to improve productivity by using data. For example, advanced data analysis could help predict when to change a spare part before it wears out in a factory. Data could be used in wind farms to adjust windmills and the angles of the blades to make the most of the wind.

Acciona wind turbines in Brazil. ©Acciona

Spain is a leader in wind energy

Acciona’s business originally focused on water, construction and the management of concessions, but today it is one of the top energy companies in the world operating exclusively in renewable energy.

The company produces 21 terawatt-hours of entirely renewable electricity a year. That’s equivalent to the energy consumption of more than six million homes.

The electricity is generated largely from the wind. Spain ranks number four in the world in wind energy production. Entrecanales says the new demands from bigger populations will be “mainly energy-related, and create new needs associated with the growth of cities.”

>@Nikola Simic/EIB
©Nikola Simic/EIB

The EIB loan is part of a new programme targeting companies like Acciona that want to break new ground in key sectors of the economy. The loan is backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments, a European Union initiative designed for innovative companies that need more financial support. EFSI assists firms that are considered risky because their technologies are untested or their products have a limited track record.

New ways to protect the environment

Kristian Uppenberg, a lead economist at the EIB, says the Bank’s loan will let the company implement the latest technologies, use more sustainable processes in its activities and invest in strategic sectors. “Its technological research centres in Madrid, Pamplona and Barcelona will be instrumental to this endeavour,” Uppenberg says. “And the digitalisation investments will be made across the company’s different business lines. The social rate of return of research is only tangible after several years. It will benefit Acciona and spills over to the industry as a whole”

The EIB loan will also “enable Acciona to improve its processes and develop new technologies that make disruptive ideas materialise: changing traditional ways of operating, opening new markets while protecting the environment,” says Covadonga Velasco, an EIB loan officer. “Acciona will deepen further its engagement in research and development and speed up its digitalization.”