May 15, 2022 1:56 am

Self-sufficient energy, from desire to (harsh) reality in five challenges



The price of electricity in the wholesale market has not given respite to citizens and also to businessmen. Electricity closed 2021 with a 72% increase compared to 2020, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE). An escalation that translates into higher bills for Spanish families, since households with a regulated rate or PVPC saw how the amount to be paid to their marketer rose 35.6% more than in 2020 and 33.7% more than in 2019.

During the last twelve months, Spaniards have cooked during off-peak hours, have put washing machines out of peak hours and have even ironed at times when teleshopping reigns supreme on televisions.

However, many have preferred to “cut to the chase” and seek to be self-sufficient from an energy point of view.

At the end of last year, the Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera, confirmed that self-consumption doubled the 600 megawatts installed in 2020. “It is the best tool against the rise in the electricity bill,” he replies Íñigo Amoribieta, CEO of Otovo, a company specializing in solar energy and self-consumption.

In 2019, Spain made a 180-degree turn in terms of energy by facilitating the possibility for households to take advantage of solar energy and, in this way, favor their own economy and also the environment. “The new regulatory framework places the citizen at the center of the energy model, allowing them to have free access to the production and sale of energy and making them more responsible for their consumption,” the Spanish Photovoltaic Union (UNEF) commented then in a statement.

A paradigm shift that has been driven by the appearance of big brands that have brought solar panels closer to families. «In 2021 we have recorded twice as many sales and customers served as in 2020; and in 2020 twice as much as in 2019,” says Pilar Pérez, product manager for Renewable Energies at Leroy Merlin.

There are three reasons for this growth for Ikea: “Subsidies, interest in caring for the environment and the high price of electricity,” explains Mónica Chao, director of sustainability for the Swedish chain in Spain.

Self-consumption in Spain is starting to heat up, but it still has many obstacles and challenges to overcome:

Lack of knowledge

Despite the growth in customers, doubts about the operation and installation are many among the Spanish population. “Society still has to mature a bit in terms of technical knowledge,” says Pérez. Currently, any family can access the purchase of these devices. “But, first you have to know how many panels you need and the energy you are going to consume,” adds Amoribieta. “The easiest thing is to get on the roof and install it, but no,” he adds.

Before starting up the installation and the photovoltaic system, “a profitability study is necessary”, reveals Pablo García, Industry advisor to the Association of Property Administrators of Madrid (CAFMadrid). In addition, a calculation of the necessary energy is necessary, “it is not just buying some solar panels,” adds García. “We look at the customer’s consumption, that is what marks us, what the person needs,” adds Íñigo Amoribieta.

not for everyone

In Spain, 65% of the population lives in blocks of flats, according to Eurostat figures. One of the highest figures in the entire European Union, only surpassed by Latvia with 66%. This means that the implementation of photovoltaic panels for individual self-consumption is more complicated than in countries where single-family homes are the most common home. The lack of space and legal issues are the main obstacles in the neighborhood communities. “It is very profitable for the family home, but for the block of flats it is more complicated, because many people live under that roof,” explains Amoribieta.

In the first place, “a community of neighbors has to agree to install the plates,” says García. According to article 17.1 of the Horizontal Property Law, “it may be agreed, at the request of any owner, by a third of the members of the community who represent, in turn, a third of the participation fees”, quotes Patricia Briones , lawyer of the College of Property Administrators of Madrid.

However, the regulations allow a neighbor to place their own installation on the community roof. “We are talking about private use,” explains Briones. «In this case you have to make sure that at least 33% of the owners attend the Board and vote in favor. We cannot apply the presumed vote, which is that of those owners who are not there, “he says.

Despite the fact that the new regulations promote energy self-consumption, “it is only more economically beneficial for single-family homes,” says the CEO of Otovo. In this case, “the house has to be free of shadows and facing south,” says Leroy Merlin’s Renewable Energy product manager.

A particular installation allows a “savings on the bill of 50% without a battery, with it it can reach 90%”, informs Amoribieta. In the case of neighboring properties, the savings are only for common expenses, “it is good for elevators, corridors or, for example, the pool treatment plant,” he adds. “Although, you can also distribute the energy that is left over among the neighbors,” explains the CEO of Otovo. “I do not advise it. It’s complicated, but it can be done,” answers Pablo García.

The current regulations allow, as experts explain, to share the energy from solar panels, but “it is done with fixed quotas,” says García. This means that in the neighborhood council the consumption quotas have to be distributed and that will be the maximum that can be allocated for self-consumption. “If 5% is established for each neighbor and one does not arrive, they will not be able to share it,” García details.

In the latter case, the project grows and the installation is complicated, since the wiring must reach each home and, in addition, the meters must register that energy coming from the solar panels.

important investment

Although estimating the installation costs of photovoltaic panels is complicated, the average investment is usually between 7,000 and 8,000 euros. “It is necessary to carry out a study of the energy required for each home, because the price and size can vary,” recalls Pilar Pérez.

However, experts point out that “it is an investment that is recovered with the savings on the bill in a few years.” “In fact, the studies say that they are amortized normally, on average in Spain, between 6 and 7 years,” answers Pilar Pérez.

The return on investment “is linked to a good preliminary study,” recalls the CEO of Otovo. This analysis allows the number of solar panels needed to be verified and, in addition, it will also determine, depending on the hours of consumption, the suitability or otherwise of installing a battery to store surplus energy for use when there is no production.

lack of manpower

The arrival of solar panels in Fnac, Ikea, Leroy Merlin or Media Markt stores has boosted sales of these devices. “Many citizens have decided to go for self-consumption,” says José Donoso, general director of the Unión Española Fotovoltaica (UNEF), the sector association for photovoltaic solar energy in Spain.

In 2020, 596 new MW were installed for self-consumption, which represents a growth of 30% in a year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic. “However, skilled labor is needed,” he adds.

The installation of this type of panels is a complex and technical job, which requires electrical knowledge and how photovoltaic solar energy works. “It is necessary to reform vocational training,” warns Donoso.

In addition, depending on the place of residence, it is necessary to request permits and approvals from the town hall for the installation of the photovoltaic system, such as building permits. Once the execution is finished, most councils usually require the inspection of the system to verify its safety before “starting it up”.

supply chain

It is a specific obstacle derived from the semiconductor crisis and lack of supply in the main world seaports. “Let’s see, a container from China more than a year ago cost 1,000 euros to bring it and now it costs 15,000,” says Pilar Pérez, product manager for Renewable Energies at Leroy Merlin. “It is true that there are problems and a price increase is being seen,” adds Íñigo Amoribieta, CEO of Otovo. However, “there are no delays, because everything is well planned,” both agree.

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