The incessant escalation of the price of light has sparked the interest of many consumers to “disconnect” from the traditional electrical system. One of the most common formulas for doing this are the self-consumption models based on the installation of solar panels and batteries that allow you to cut the electricity bill by more than 90% and end up paying, in a family home type 100 square meters, bills of around twelve euros per month. Currently, there is one in Catalonias 27,000 self-consumption installations, but the companies dedicated to assembling them note that the summer has arrived accompanied by a disproportionate increase in orders. Subsidies and the fear of a winter marked by energy problems have encouraged this booming sector since the pandemic.
“Photovoltaic self-consumption installations are profitable by themselves. They were already years ago and now with the current prices of light and the cost that is decreasing every day, they are even more profitable,” he explains to the ACN the director of the Catalan Energy Institute, Marta Morera. According to the Government’s calculations, the solar self-consumption facilities available have a production capacity of more than 200 megawatts.
As can be seen on the counter of the Self-Consumption Observatory in Catalonia, the number of these -almost- self-sufficient domestic plants has grown exponentially in the last four years. Thus, if 420 were launched in 2018, this number multiplied by more than ten in two years. However, between 2020 and 2021, the number of new projects also grew significantly, from 5,800 in 2020 to almost 13,000 last year.
For this 2022, the graph shows a certain stabilization that the sector attributes to one element: there is not enough labor to deal with all the demand generated by the increase in the price of light and the effect of European subsidies. “This year we had to quadruple the workforce we had and our team had to make a very important effort,” acknowledges Franc Comino, entrepreneur from Olot, expert in energy saving and head of the German battery company, to ACN and Sonnen plates in Spain.
“The big ‘boom’ we have now is residential, then industrial will come, surely”, he predicts. In his opinion, interest in installing solar panels and reducing dependence on the traditional electricity system has grown a lot among private consumers. At the same time, it foresees a similar process between the managers of companies and factories, the sectors most exposed to a winter in which energy restrictions and rationing (savings?) may become common if the geopolitical tensions due to the war Ukraine are encysted.
Pay 12 euros for electricity
Comino illustrates the radical effect of self-consumption from an attic in Molins de Rei. There, his company has installed a plate system and a small battery on the terrace. With a total investment of 15,000 euros – including subsidies -, its owners, a family that also has an electric car that charges in the building’s car park, have managed to cut their electricity bill by 90%. Legally, they cannot be disconnected from the system, but the amount of light they take is minimal, only in hours of high consumption due to air conditioning or household appliances. According to him, it is only necessary to compare this figure with what many citizens pay for the gym or for the subscription to a video platform like Netflix to see the magnitude of the savings.
The associations of installers in Catalonia note this unprecedented boom in the demand for plates, batteries and electrical self-sufficiency mechanisms since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the rise in the price of electricity. As Raül Rodríguez, director of the Federation of Installers’ Guilds of Catalonia, reports, there has been “exponential” growth despite the lack of qualified labor and the obstacles that the local world imposes on this type of project with administrative, fiscal and bureaucratic hurdles.
“There are many installation companies that right now do not have enough operators to do this type of project. Some have waiting lists of four or five months to be able to execute,” he says. According to its figures, there has been a quarterly increase of more than 20% in completed projects thanks to the acceleration of public subsidies. Without setbacks, this number would be even higher, because today the demand is almost insatiable.
Disconnect or not?
Several experts consulted by the ACN note the rise in self-consumption in Catalonia and agree that it is more a matter of savings than a sudden interest in sustainability. However, some of these voices warn that the “disconnection” of the traditional electricity grid is not the definitive solution to the problems of an electricity system where waste and a lack of sovereignty in production are still very evident with the outbreak of war.
“The problem with this is that they are intermittent systems, make no mistake, they depend a lot on the weather, the sun and the wind. The difference with other energies like nuclear, which is constant, or fossil fuels, which you can turning on and off when you want is important,” advises Joan Anton Ros, professor of Economics and Finance at the UPF-BSM. He also warns that another difficulty with this model is storage, since batteries are very expensive and it is not feasible to reserve large amounts of energy. “Inevitably, the best option now is to remain connected to the network,” he summarizes.
For her part, Laura Garcia, a member of the energy commission of the College of Industrial Engineers of Catalonia, is betting on launching “many renewables” to deal with electrification and the energy transition. “This involves distributed generation, through energy communities or electricity self-consumption, and also with larger energy generation plants,” he explains. However, it highlights the value of these “autonomous” models to enhance “distributed generation” of energy production by reducing the weight of large plants, be they solar, wind, nuclear or combined cycle.