New chapter in the unstoppable rise of electricity self-consumption in Spain. In 2022, more than 2.5 gigawatts (GW) of new solar power were installed in homes and companies, 108% more than in 2021. Then, the figure remained at 1.2 GW after having —also— doubled compared to a year before. The data, provided by EL PAÍS and presented this Tuesday by the Spanish Photovoltaic Union (UNEF), point to a cumulative installed capacity of more than 5.2 GW and more than 200,000 homes that already have roof panels.
Despite the recent boom in homes, where panels have proliferated in recent years, in 2022 47% of the new installed power —six points more than a year earlier— was in the industrial sector. Immediately afterwards, residential accounted for 32%; the commercial, 20%; and isolated self-consumption —that is, without connection to the electricity grid—, the remaining 1%.
The general director of UNEF, José Donoso, highlights two elements behind this recent self-consumption fever, especially evident in single-family homes: the explosion in the price of electricity, especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the aid for the installation panels and batteries containing the European recovery plan. “The progressive elimination of administrative barriers [el País Vasco es la única comunidad autónoma en la que se mantiene la obligatoriedad de pedir licencia de obras para instalar paneles] and local incentives have also made more and more individuals become self-consumers, thus joining the fight against climate change”, explains the manager.
Although it is difficult to estimate how much, the proliferation of solar panels in homes and businesses is one of the factors that is putting downward pressure on the demand for electricity: in 2022, it contracted by 3.2%, with a particularly sharp decline in the final stretch of the year. Even though it is not the main one —by far the biggest is the destruction of demand due to high prices—, no one in the sector doubts that it has had an impact. And that this bite on consumption will increase in the coming years.
The multiplication of success stories in the installation of panels is causing an expansion by word of mouth. There is, explains Donoso, a certain “demonstration effect that will make self-consumption become a regular element in our homes and businesses.” The next step, he adds, will be the expansion of collective self-consumption, “a trend that will increase and that will further boost the sector.”
Once the threshold of five gigawatts of installed power has been exceeded, Spain is advancing, according to UNEF, “at cruising speed” in meeting the objectives set in the Self-consumption Roadmap published in 2021 by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, which sets a minimum target of 9 GW in 2030. In a “high penetration” scenario, the Government aspires to reach 14 GW. At the current rate, however, even this second, most ambitious goal would be far exceeded.
Although self-consumption, individual or collective, has enormous potential in Spain, it is only an important complement to a mixed of generation in which both photovoltaic on the ground and wind and pumped hydraulic power stations have to continue to gain weight in the coming years. The latest version of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC), which will be updated next spring, contemplates a generation matrix in which 74% of the electricity consumed in 2030 is of renewable origin.
Spain, however, is far behind other major European nations such as Italy, the Netherlands and, above all, Germany. Neighbors, all of them, with much less hours of sun but with more single-family homes. And, mainly, in which the State did not penalize those who first chose to install panels in their houses with the popularly known as sun tax.
“Self-consumption will continue [a futuro] the growing trend of this year: one only has to observe the progression that it has experienced after the elimination of the sun tax, in 2018″, says Donoso. In 2019, immediately after the first government of Pedro Sánchez repealed the controversial taxes implemented by his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, in 2015 —which made the electricity bill of homes with panels more expensive during the hours in which they were forced to pull the network—, these installations did not even reach one gigawatt installed. Now freed from these fetters, it has practically grown six-fold.
The rate of adoption of self-consumption, accelerated by the energy crisis, has a second face: the shortage of professionals to cover all the demand. “The good self-consumption data show the need for the solar energy sector in Spain to train, attract and retain professionals so that this growth trend can be sustained over time”, underlines the photovoltaic employers’ association.
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