Photovoltaic energy overcomes the blockade and timidly takes off in Catalonia

Photovoltaic energy produced in solar installations on the ground takes off in Catalonia; albeit timidly.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
22 May 2023 Monday 14:42
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Photovoltaic energy overcomes the blockade and timidly takes off in Catalonia

Photovoltaic energy produced in solar installations on the ground takes off in Catalonia; albeit timidly. A total of 47 photovoltaic parks have been authorized between 2022 and 2023 by the Generalitat. The long blockade is gone, says the industry. "Since 2012 none had been authorized," emphasizes Assumpta Farran, general director of Energy. The promoters will be able to sell the electricity to the network. If all these solar installations are put into operation, their production would provide electricity equivalent to the consumption of some 45,000 families.

These parks are small (generally less than 5 ha, maximum) promoted by small or medium-sized companies and not by large energy companies.

The largest is Constantí (Tarragonés), with 14.5 MW, located on an area of ​​17.46 ha and promoted by Iosa Green Energy; its construction will end in mid-June, and its start-up at the end of summer.

The production in this plant will serve to supply some 7,600 families, say sources from the construction company Comsa.

It is followed by the Port Aventura plant (Vila-seca), of 6.6 MW, and that of the Solar Júpiter company (5 MW) in Arboç (Baix Penedès).

Most of these parks are on agricultural land and some of them are agrovoltaic installations, so that electricity production will be compatible with agricultural activity.

Salvador Salat, co-delegate of UNEF in Catalonia (the group that brings together promoters and manufacturers in the sector), points out that the horizon for photovoltaics in Catalonia has cleared up and "many of the existing obstacles have been overcome", thanks to the fact that now the Administration and the sector "have worked together", and clear criteria and guidelines have been established (regarding urban planning, agriculture and the environment) that allow for the necessary rules of the game to promote these projects.

“We have been standing around doing nothing for 12 years; Neither the administration knew what to ask of us in the projects, nor did we give the correct answer. It has been difficult for us to understand each other”, says Salat.

The promoters now know that there are guidelines that they must respect, such as areas of high agricultural or environmental protection. For example, on agronomic class I and II lands, solar projects cannot be promoted, as they are especially fertile lands, unless they are facilities compatible with agricultural activity (and where at least 60% of the production is maintained). agricultural).

On the other hand, agricultural land that does not have an exceptional value (agronomic classes III and IV) can be occupied, although with limitations (up to 5% of the municipal space of these classes if it is irrigated or 10% if it is rainfed).

The sector confirms that it must assume that in Catalonia there are many restrictions on photovoltaics (“in 70% of the territory these installations are prohibited”, says Salat).

Assumpta Farran, General Director of Energy, highlights that, although they have the authorization of the Generalitat, a significant part of these photovoltaic solar parks cannot start construction as a municipal suspension of licenses has been decreed. These town halls do not grant the works permit (setting a two-year moratorium), while they establish a modification of an urban planning plan, where these facilities were not considered.

José Donoso, general director of UNEF, describes the decision of the city councils to suspend licenses as an unjustifiable "trick", since "they cannot refuse a project that has all the authorizations".

The sector says that there are a dozen parks in this situation but is nevertheless confident that these delays do not put these projects at risk. From the moment they obtain their permission to access the network (the first step, and from which the processing clock begins to count), the promoters have five years to complete all the steps and complete the start of production of their projects.

Assumpta Farran points out that another part of the parks is not being built anymore due to problems in the supply chain while investors wait for the prices of the plates to fall, which have been more expensive in the last two years.

UNEF Cat believes, on the other hand, that the problem of material supply has already been overcome (85% of solar panels come from China), a bottleneck that is especially acute during the Covid pandemic.

Promoters also have to face uncertainties and the lower remuneration they obtain from selling energy to the electrical system, which complicates the schemes to repay the loans to the banks.

"The current price-setting system leads to a significant reduction in electricity prices," said José Donoso, general director of UNEF.

Developers go to the market to make their offers but they no longer have premiums (as previously existed for new plants).

This drop in remuneration is due to the fact that at certain hours of the day there is a large contribution of renewable energy in the network with no presence of gas (which, being the most expensive energy, is the one that sets the remuneration price for all the other sources), so that it is hydraulics that sets the price, and that lowers the price.

Photovoltaic solar parks are promoted thanks to bank loans and if this economic retribution falls, the repayment of these credits is complicated, a major setback for developers, who may be forced to request longer-term repayments.

The problem could worsen in the future if this excess production with renewable sources continues to grow, and if, on the demand side, there are no new sectors that are electrified, a basic requirement to achieve the decarbonization of the economy), as he vehemently emphasizes Assumpa Farran. For the CEO this is a priority.

"If this problem continues, that will make it more difficult in the future to obtain credits for the next parks," warns Salat, although in his opinion this "problem will occur above all in the projects that start now and that will be a reality within three years," he added.

Given that the free market is subject to strong remuneration fluctuations, the solution favored by the sector is for the Government to hold auctions to award a certain volume of megawatts with a guaranteed minimum price to whoever offers electricity under better conditions.

The other option that developers have is to agree to agreements or bilateral contracts with companies that need this electricity (the so-called PPA: Power Purchase Agreement) that guarantee income for a long period and to be able to pay the credit to the bank. without these extras.

“In Europe, long-term contracts are becoming common; in Spain they just begin. "Possibly this will achieve low profitability, but it will be guaranteed," says Salat.

Another drawback for the sector is that this excess supply of energy in the network means that at times it cannot be used.

The final solution to achieve a better implementation of photovoltaic solar and achieve a better use of this energy will come from a higher degree of electrification of industry and other sectors (transport, heating...) so that it can absorb this growing supply from renewable sources. “We need electrification to move forward, and so far that process is not going at the required speed,” Farran points out.

The other great door to achieve a better use will be achieved through the use of pumping stations and batteries; In this way, the excess energy in the network during the day can be accumulated and can be used at other times when it is needed. “The idea is to save that energy to be used in the moments of best pay,” says Donoso.

"Most of these parks are small, and, given the need to connect more energy to the grid and to face the climate emergency, the authorizations for these 47 parks deserve a good assessment but it is insufficient," says José Donoso, Secretary General of Unef in Spain.