Hybrid solar panels advance grid parity in Spain

Advances in solar photovoltaic (PV) technology mean that solar is competitive with fossil fuel generation in countries with high radiation such as Spain, but natural gas will be required to keep the grid stable for many years to come.

An interesting perspective comes from Spanish company Abora Solar, which makes hybrid panels that heat water at the same time as producing electricity. Gastech Insights spoke with its CEO Dr Alejandro del Amo, who is speaking at the Future of Energy Day at the EAGC/CEE conference in Berlin on 9th November.

Gastech Insights: Will the recently announced repeal of the 'sun tax' have an immediate impact on the solar industry in Spain?

Dr Alejandro del Amo: Yes of course, regulations are like a pendulum here in Spain which is always interesting! Most people wanting to install solar panels on their roof have been afraid of the taxes on solar electricity, which were introduced in 2015, however, last week the government approved a repeal. The people just want established regulations. It will be like a dam break; we expect a lot of new installations in the next weeks and months and we’re already seeing visitors to our website increasing.

Gastech Insights: What other regulatory incentives are required to boost Spain's solar industry?

Dr Alejandro del Amo: If we have an established framework the market will grow fast. We have very expensive electric bills in Spain and if the market and regulations are OK, not only will people install panels in their houses, but they will also appear in companies, hotels and hospitals. Every day we go outside and see the sun, so it makes sense.

If we had net metering where you can sell power back to the grid it would be very interesting. During the day when the sun is shining people are not in their house, so do not need the power. But people are afraid of regulation, so we need a gradual approach. Companies are allowed to exchange electricity with their neighbour if they are connected to the same grid.

Gastech Insights: How has solar technology advanced in recent years, has it reached cost parity with gas without subsidy?

Dr Alejandro del Amo: If you consider the whole life cycle of the installation, the cost of renewable energy (LCOE) is lower than the price for gas over 20 years, so grid parity has arrived. When a PV installation is completed, it’s because it’s profitable without subsidy. The problem is, if all the energy that can be produced is sold to the grid it’s profitable, but if only some is sold, it is not. In the future, installations will be profitable without the need to sell all the generated energy, it will only need to be a fraction.

Gastech Insights: Can you tell us what advantages your panels have over other PV installations?

Dr Alejandro del Amo: We have a hybrid collector (PVT, photovoltaic and thermal) which produces four times more thermal energy than electricity. Our technology has a payback of around 5-6 years in Spain and the applications are tertiary sector and industry, such as hotels, hospitals, swimming pools, nursing homes, etc. For example, a nursing home located in northern Spain has a payback of 5.7 years with the taxes and 5.9 years without, so only two months more. A PV panel is 15% efficient but a PVT panel is 75% efficient (60% in thermal efficiency and 15% in photovoltaic).

The International Energy Agency had a Solar Heating and Cooling Task 60 programme meeting last week in Spain and there were 50 companies and research centres present. The efficiency of PVT technology has increased a lot and the cost has been reduced too.

One of the most important conclusions of the meeting is that PVT technology is ready to be launched to the market and the expectation is that this technology will experience a very large growth in the coming years.

Gastech Insights: Will gas continue to play an important role in Spain or will renewables be able to solve their intermittency issues on their own?

Dr Alejandro del Amo: Gas is necessary to supply energy to the grid. Renewables need to be introduced little by little into the grid because if it was 100% renewables, stability could be a problem. In future when costs come down and efficiency improves you could have 80% renewable integration, maybe by 2050. With a combined cycle plant, gas is one of the most important fossil fuels because it can adapt really fast for the integration of renewables into the grid. Now it is a mix and little by little renewables will be integrated. We need to build more transmission lines to share electricity with other countries.

You can have nearly 100% renewables in a place like El Hierro Island, a really special island in the Canaries with a lot of wind, low demand, and lots of mountains for pumped storage.

If you would like to hear more about the European gas and LNG market developments, register to attend EAGC | CEE, 7-9 November in Berlin to participate in the discussions. Do not miss out and book your place today.

Image courtesy of Abora Solar