A secondary school and a residents’ association have teamed up with Barcelona city council to create a solar energy community with the capacity to grow – rooftop by rooftop – across large areas of the city.
The solar panels on the roof of Quatre Cantons secondary school in the former industrial district of Poblenou supply power to the school and 30 households in the surrounding area.
Each household has 500W of free electricity at its disposal, equivalent to a 25% cut in their bill.
The idea was first proposed in 2019, says Marike Charlier, spokeswoman for the residents’ association, and began to become a reality in discussions with the Quatre Cantons school.
César Ochoa, a maths teacher at the school who also sits on its sustainability committee, said the school’s desire to cut energy consumption dovetailed with the residents’ plans and, in a first for an energy community of this nature, the council agreed to foot the €94,000 (£80,000) cost of installing solar panels on the school’s roof.
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The 30 households then became clients of Barcelona Energia, the council-run electricity company, replacing the private company Endesa, although the latter has been slow to cede the connection.
“Once it’s operational, the school will get 30% of the electricity generated,” Ochoa says. “That will supply only some of its needs, but this is just a pilot project. Obviously, during school holidays this energy will be available to whoever else needs it.”
Solar power went into decline in Spain under the previous, conservative government after it imposed a “sunshine tax” on individual consumers or energy communities, which the big power companies claimed were unfair competition.
The tax was scrapped under the current government and solar installation is soaring, accompanied by a move towards localised, rooftop installations, such as Quatre Cantons, rather than huge solar parks miles from centres of population.
Last year Spain produced around 46% of its energy through renewables but solar (1.8%) still lags behind wind (23%) and hydro (11.4%).
Under Spanish law, solar installations can only supply power within a 500m radius (the rule is 2km in France and Portugal) but the idea was always to extend it beyond 500m from the school, says Charlier.
She points out that there are 11 other public buildings within 500m (1,640ft) of Quatre Cantons where further installations could radically increase the power available and extend the scheme across the neighbourhood.
The city council has set itself a goal of a five-fold increase in solar power across the public and private sector by 2030.
“These energy communities are really special and they make it possible to find solutions that wouldn’t otherwise be viable, but it isn’t scalable for the whole city,” says Eloi Badia, councillor for climate change and ecological transition. “In the end, the solution for Barcelona is for everyone to have solar panels on their roof.”