Self-generated energy soars in Spain as solar panels plunge in price

Last year there was a 94% increase in sun-powered electricity compared to 2017, according to Spain’s Photovoltaic Union UNEF

Manuel Planelles
Solar panels on top of a Madrid building.
Solar panels on top of a Madrid building.Samuel Sánchez

Solar power is paving the way for a rise in self-generated energy in Spain. Installed capacity grew for the second year running in 2018 with a 94% hike on 2017 figures – and 90% of that was self-generated.

It is now cheaper to install panels with batteries than a diesel engine

José Donoso, UNEF managing director

Installed solar power in Spain passed the 5,000-MW mark of installed capacity last year, indicating a decade of vertiginous growth. Despite a slowdown in 2012, solar energy is once again powering ahead with both companies and homes installing the technology in a bid to curb costs.

In 2018, 261.7 MW of new solar power was installed, of which 26 MW are connected to the grid and the remainder, 235.7 MW, self-generating installations.

José Donoso, managing general of Spain’s Photovoltaic Union (UNEF), believes the 80% drop in the cost of the technology over the past 10 years is responsible for the upward trend, coupled with the European Union’s self-generated renewable energy drive.

For years, self-generated energy was punished in Spain by administrative obstacles and fees from the central government, such as the so-called “sun tax” levied by the Popular Party (PP). However, Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) government ditched the tax last October and is now preparing to regulate self-generated electricity practices and the financial compensation for feeding energy into the grid – which could increase the value of the technology.

The cost of solar panels has fallen 80% over the past decade

The regulations are set to be ready by May. After this date, UNEF believes self-generated energy will grow between 300 and 400 MW a year.

Currently, most of the growth is taking place in the agricultural sector. Around 25% of self-generated energy schemes in 2018 were linked to irrigation, according to UNEF. “It is now cheaper to install panels with batteries than a diesel engine,” says Donoso.

UNEF is also optimistic about the new EU norms on renewable energy that are aimed at increasing self-generated power in Europe. Last year, 8,500 MW of solar capacity was installed across Europe, with Holland and Germany out in front. China, however, was the global leader with 44,000 MW.

If the projections are right, 2019 will be a record year for renewable energy in Spain, and solar power in particular. According to Donoso, 4,000 MW of solar installed capacity is on the cards.

Remodeling growth

This level of growth in the solar sector is unprecedented in Spain, but Donoso warns against inconsistency. “You can’t have a model based on spurts and freezes,” he says. “Nobody is going to believe in an industry if the growth is not continuous.”

He does, however, applaud the current government’s plans for an annual solar growth rate of 3,000 MW over the next 10 years in order to comply with Spain’s commitment to renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gases. Of these 3,000 MW, Donoso calculates that 10% to 15% will be self-generated.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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