IMAGE: Maxim Kazmin — 123RF

Spain’s energy outlook: decidedly unsunny

In 2014, for the third consecutive year, the US residential solar market experienced more than 50 percent growth and the first year during which it exceeded installations in the non-residential market. In 2008, solar-generated electricity reached 1.18 GW, which was considered something of a feat: output currently stands at 21.3 GW, which is enough to cover the needs of some 4.3 million homes.

The key to this growth lies not just with large companies that are both saving money and fulfilling their corporate social governance requirements by generating their own energy, but with greater residential use. Some 72 percent of growth last year came from this market, which is being driven by rapid technological change. One of the biggest players, California’s Solar City, says on its website that “every three minutes, somebody switches to Solar City”.

As said, all this growth is being driven by technology. Aside from steadily declining costs and the use of more efficient components, the companies that have entered the segment have simplified design, installation, financing, and adaptability.

These companies are looking to create economies of scale and expertise way ahead of what any house owner could manage. What’s more, they have focused on making it easier for customers to meet legal and safety requirements, along with accessing any subsidies that might be available. Installation has benefitted from a steep learning curve. And finally, what for many people is the most important aspect, which is creating new approaches to finance the cost of installation based on future savings, which have significantly lowered the cost, thus avoiding costly bank loans.

This development ecosystem is already providing results, and could have an impact on energy policy by reducing fossil fuel dependence, and thus potentially slowing down climate change. The United States is creating a social and business fabric around technology, one that is able to generate value at all levels of the pyramid: residential (by reducing electricity bills); business (by creating an industry dedicated to meeting the demands of the sector); and society as a whole (through macro-economic benefits and for the environment). In short, the country has the vision to see the huge potential of renewables, and is doing all it can to allow technological development to continue unimpeded.

Which brings us to Spain and why it is that this country, which has all the necessary conditions required for producing solar energy, still doesn’t have any kind of eco-system remotely comparable to that of the United States. Why does the Spanish government, instead of helping, instead choose to protect the interests of the traditional utilities, and coming up with taxes designed to discourage creating a decentralized electricity generation system? Why is this government’s renewables model based on the electricity companies holding on to power plants, when it is now possible to create residential infrastructure that is much more efficient?

It takes several years to create the kind of ecosystem now in place in the United States. While here in Spain the country is run by a bunch of technophobes whose main concern seems to be to protect the status quo, the United States is setting a global example. Would a revolution on this scale have been possible there with an administration determined at all costs to protect the traditional players, and constantly blocking any attempt to invest in solar energy by imposing a “sun tax”? Spain was once in the forefront of developing solar energy, but has since been left far behind.

(En español, aquí)

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