The Royal Palace in Madrid’s old town is in darkness. The exterior lights of the City Palace, one of the most visited attractions in the Spanish capital, have been switched off. The magnificent façade of the opera house opposite is also no longer illuminated at night.
Since Spain’s energy-saving plan came into effect on August 10, millions of lights have been switched off every night across the country. In addition to irradiating the facades of public buildings, the nightly window lighting in shops must also be switched off after 10 p.m. In addition, a temperature limit for the air conditioning and heating of official buildings, shops, restaurants, cinemas and airports was decided. The German government is currently planning something similar, but Spain is already a step further.
The collective switch-off in the holiday country, where millions of tourists are staying these August days, is showing the first signs of success: According to the Spanish grid operator Red Eléctrica, the demand for electricity has fallen since the beginning of the campaign. If you compare the second week of August – in which the austerity measures were introduced – with the first week of August, you can already see a reduction in national electricity consumption of 3.6 percent. In the third week of August, this energy saving trend continued even more clearly.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praises the “valuable measures” in Spain and some other European countries as exemplary. “Slightly higher temperatures in the air conditioning bring impressive results,” explains von der Leyen. Savings are also being made in the EU offices in Brussels , she said: “In most buildings, for example, we switch off the cooling and heating system an hour earlier than before.” This reduces energy consumption by around three percent.
Spain’s energy decree is a first step by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to implement the EU’s emergency gas plan. It stipulates that the 27 member states reduce their gas consumption. Most EU countries agreed on a – initially voluntary – reduction of 15 percent. For Spain, which is less dependent on Russian gas than Germany, for example, seven percent were agreed.
While Brussels applauds Madrid’s austerity campaign, Spain’s opposition is calling for the energy decree to be withdrawn. The head of the conservative People’s Party, Alberto Feijoo, speaks of an “improvised plan with unilateral measures” that have not been coordinated with the economy, town halls and regions. The government’s energy policy is guided by ideological and not technical criteria, says Feijoo.
The right-wing populist party Vox, the third largest group in the Spanish parliament after the Social Democrats and Conservatives, also rejects the energy saving plan: “The measures are a further restriction of the rights and freedoms of the Spaniards.” Vox boss Santiago Abascal also calls for the “repeal of all climate protection laws”. .
The echo is divided among entrepreneurs. “The plan obliges you to do something that is good – namely to save,” says José Luis Yzuel, head of the national gastronomy association. The Spanish hotel association Cehat also supports the measures. Antonio Garamendi, President of the Spanish employers’ association CEOE, on the other hand, demands “more dialogue and more help for the affected sectors” from the government. Criticism also came from the umbrella organization of trade. The government acted hastily with its decree and did not coordinate the measures with the industry associations.
Prime Minister Sánchez responded to the criticism with an appeal to public spirit: Against the background of the energy crisis and the Ukraine war, he called on the nation to “act responsibly” in order to work together with the whole of Europe “against Putin’s energy blackmail”.
“Every degree less in cooling or heating means a saving of seven percent,” says the Spanish Environment Minister Ribera. Now in summer, the room air can normally only be cooled down to 27 degrees.
However, there are exceptions, for example for restaurants and bars, where the temperature can drop to 25 degrees. Special rules have also been issued for hairdressers, fitness studios and other facilities with sweaty activities. Just like for hotels, where only common areas are covered by the decree. The rooms can still be individually air-conditioned – but hoteliers report that many holidaymakers are now turning down the air-conditioning units.
In the future, heating will stop at 19 degrees in winter. In order to avoid energy losses, the entrance doors can no longer be left wide open – as is usual in many shops.