A technician installs solar panels on a private house. / SUR

Rising electricity prices and availability of grants see number of solar panel installations multiply by ten

More than 2,000 homes in the province of Malaga have taken advantage of the latest subsidies offered by the Junta and government for installing solar panels

The roofs of homes around Malaga province offer proof of a green energy revolution. The rising cost of electricity, and the subsidies available from the Junta de Andalucía and the government for solar panel installations have multiplied figures by ten.

Recent data from the Andalusian Energy Agency shows that in 2021 there were 1,675 applications for financial assistance for solar installations. This amounts to 23.3 million euros of investment and incentives to the value of eight million, under the Andalusian energy development programme financed by EU Feder funds. The difference is significant compared with earlier years: in 2019 there were 175 applications, and in 2020 just 56.

At the same time, a new programme of incentives for energy self-sufficiency in private homes, which began in December 2021 (with government funding although it is managed by the Junta) received 574 applications in Malaga province from people wanting to take advantage of solar power.

So those are the figures. On the ground, this revolution is taking the form of a boom in solar panel installations, which has multiplied demand for specialised companies. Over 2,000 homes (counting only those who have received subsidies) have begun generating their own electricity in recent months.

"It hasn't been an avalanche as much as a tsunami," said José Francisco Alcaide, the founding member (with Jorge Rando) and technical director of the Malaga company 4Tenergy, when asked about his recent business experience.

In his case, the number of installations completed or requested has multiplied by five in the past few months. "I'll give you a figure: before, I used to do a couple of quotes a day. Now, I get around 20 calls a day and I have a waiting list," he explained. And the result? "It's incredible, the sector was not prepared for such high demand, the capacity is overwhelmed and it's hard for the companies to cope," he said.

A six month wait

The main problem, according to Alcaide, is the lack of materials. "There's a waiting list of at least six months," he said, especially for inverters (the piece that converts the electricity produced by the solar panels so it can be used in the home).

"Our company has been in this sector for a long time and we could see what was coming, so we stocked up with materials and thanks to that we are able to carry on working," he explained.

The main inverter manufacturers are giving delivery dates of between six and eight months, which means they have to look for other suppliers. However, a large part of the product comes from Asia, where there is an enormous bottleneck because of the new Covid lockdowns.

"It's a perfect storm. We're happy that the sector is growing, but not pleased that we can't meet demand and that the installations are having to be delayed," he said.

An investment that pays off

The question being asked by many who are considering installing solar panels is whether the investment is really worth it. It costs around 3,000 to 4,000 euros, after the subsidy is deducted (40 per cent more, about 5,000 to 6,000 euros without the financial aid). And the answer is a very firm yes, as long as the property has sufficient exposure to the sun, in accordance with technical criteria.

Perhaps it is best to look at someone's personal experience. Antonio González is the director of a large company and lives in a detached house. He put eight solar panels on the roof of his home in December 2020, with a maximum output of 3.5 kilowatt-hours.

"There has been a huge saving on electricity bills, especially between March and October, and especially with what they pay you for the surplus," he said.

With prices shooting up, in his house, which is quite large, they currently pay just over 20 euros a month for electricity. A mobile app tells him how much electricity he is producing at any moment, and that enables him to adjust his consumption accordingly.

"The domestic appliances which are always on, like the fridge, plus the washing machine, dishwasher and swimming pool motor can all work at the same time with the power I get from the panels from midday till six in the evening," he explained.

Although the installation cost around 6,000 euros and at that time there were no grants or subsidies, he believes it was worth it. "I got myself a loan, and in three years I expect to have recovered the cost of the installation," he said.

In the area where he lives, a further three householders have followed his example, especially since the subsidies were made available. He has a word of advice for those considering doing the same: don't accept the first quote you are given, check the market because there are good offers around for people with solar panels, including some with the possibility of keeping the surplus electricity to be used at times of the year when there is not so much sunshine.

Double the current figure

Nationally, the situation is very similar. Ernesto Macías is the managing director in Spain of the German multinational Solarwatt. "In addition to the crisis caused by rocketing energy prices, which are at unimaginable highs, is the fact that people are starting to have more energy culture and adapt their consumption habits," he said. The consequence is "an extraordinary boom in the number of solar installations".

Last year, 1,200 megawatts were produced for self-consumption in Spain, of which 400 came from residential properties, with an average of three kilowatts each. That means that between 130,000 and 140,000 properties have this equipment. For this year, the plan is to double the figure, to encompass communities of owners and shared use.

As a reference for what is going to happen in Spain, Macías pointed out that two million homes in Germany are fitted with photovoltaic systems, despite having half as many hours of sunshine.

Among the next challenges to be faced by this industry is promoting solar energy as a way to charge electric cars.