In Spain, the spectacular rise of photovoltaics after years of delay

“I thought it absurd that we didn’t do anything with so much sun”, sums up Juan Francisco, a 69-year-old retiree living in his pretty housing estate near the Escorial. On the roof of his pavilion, located near the Valmayor dam lake, with its unobstructed view of the “Sierra de Madrid” mountains, this former engineer had twelve panels installed with a power of 6.5 kilowatts. (kW) in March. “I reduced my bill by more than 50% and I have already donated 1 megawatt to the network [MW] that I should be remunerated. The town hall offers us 50% reduction on property taxes for four years and I have applied for aid from the Next Generation funds [le plan de relance européen], which should bear about 30% of the cost of the installation”, he enumerates, delighted. On the roofs of neighboring houses, solar panels have sprung up like mushrooms in recent months.

In 2021, new photovoltaic installations for self-consumption doubled in Spain compared to 2020, with more than 1,200 MW of additional power, bringing the total to 2,800 MW. And this year, the National Association of Photovoltaic Energy Producers (Anpier) calculates that nearly 2,000 MW will be added. “And again, it could go faster, but the market is saturated”assures Rafael Barrera, general manager of Anpier.

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Despite the exceptional solar irradiation enjoyed by the Iberian Peninsula (from 1,700 to 1,900 kW/h per square meter annually), bathed in nearly three hundred days of sunshine per year over a large part of the territory, the installed photovoltaic power (nearly of 14 gigawatts) was four times less there at the end of 2021 than in Germany (59 gigawatts). However, between 2005 and 2010, Spain had been, alongside Germany, one of the European pioneers in renewable energies, the government of socialist José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero supporting electricity producers ready to invest in a still staggering and costly technology through generous aid and guaranteed high remuneration. A boom cut short by the economic and financial crisis of 2008.

A government will

In 2010, Madrid was forced to revise downwards its aid to the sector, in the grip of a speculative bubble which had inflated the “tariff deficit”, the gap between the electricity tariffs paid by consumers and actual production costs. When he came to power, the conservative Mariano Rajoy went further by approving in 2012 a moratorium on the development of renewable energies, and by reducing, retroactively, the remuneration of producers. In 2015, the “sun tax”, which taxes the owners of solar panels, gave the final blow to self-consumers. It will only be abolished in 2018, as soon as the Socialists return to power. Result: between 2012 and 2018 the installation of solar panels was paralyzed in Spain.

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