Spanish Communities Are Challenging the Traditional Energy Model

Consumers in Spain are becoming co-owners of community projects that promote renewable energy.
Published: Thu 08 May 2014

Small groups of organised citizens in Spain are beginning to generate their own power from renewable sources. This move is creating a major challenge for utilities and their prevailing energy models.

Agents of change

Consumers are now being labeled as ‘agents of change’ since they can now become co-owners of community projects that promote renewable energy, such as the Huerta Solar Amigos de la Tierra, a 20-kW solar energy plant in the municipality of Sisante in southeast Spain. Friends of the Earth Spain and the non-profit company Ecooo helped to create the plant.

“We have to change the 20th century paradigm, where energy equals fossil fuels, and citizens are seen as mere consumers,” explains Héctor de Prado, head of energy and climate in Friends of the Earth Spain.

Consumers can become co-owners by purchasing shares- the price starts at 100 Euros. Once they become co-owners, they can start looking forward to cheaper and more reliable power, as well as profits.

Ecooo, which forms part of the Platform for a new energy model, is made up of over 300 organisations. The company installs and maintains solar panels for private individuals and carries out energy audits to analyse consumption. Ecooo has 65 collective rooftop solar installations in both rural and urban communities around Spain.

Consumers are active participants

Another option is for energy consumers, who want to support clean energy collectives, to move from a traditional power utility to one of several “green” cooperatives operating in Spain such as Zencer in the southern region of Andalusía, Som Energia in Catalonia in the east, or GoiEner and Nosa Enerxia in Galicia in the northwest.

“We want to make consumers participants in managing the energy they consume,” architect Francisco Javier Porras, founder and president of Zencer which has been supplying electricity from renewable sources at a national level since January 2013.

The cooperatives can purchase electricity from the traditional utilities, but they guarantee that all of the energy they sell comes from clean sources, by granting renewable energy certificates to producers of clean energy.

According to Porras, between 30 and 40 percent of the energy produced in Spain now comes from renewable sources.

Customers still slow to move

While the move to independent power production seems appealing, customers are still reluctant to make the move despite soaring electricity bills. However, according to members of the cooperatives, the cost of electricity is no higher than what consumers are already paying major power providers such as Iberdrola, Gas Natural Fenosa, Endesa, HC and E.On. In fact, they say that consumers can expect to pay even less.

Energy poverty is growing rapidly in Spain due to escalating electricity costs. Approximately two million customers are struggling to pay their electricity bills and this number is growing, according to a report by the Association of Environmental Sciences (ACA).

The government has been blamed for standing in the way of independent power producers. Friends of the Earth Spain complains that the government is intentionally stalling the progress of renewable energy while other European countries such as Germany are well on their way to harnessing the potential of distributed generation.

We also recently wrote about the UK’s Ovo Energy , an independent energy supplier, which is helping consumers go off-grid.[Read: Engerati:Ovo Energy Helps Consumers Go Off-Grid.]

Distributed generation is a global trend and cheap solar technology and installations will see an increasing number of consumers make the move from costly grid power.