production cost has been reduced by 77% since 2010

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Producing photovoltaic energy is getting cheaper. Specifically, 77% since 2010. This is evidenced by the latest report Costs of renewable energy generation (Renewable Power Generation Costs) of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). In addition, they estimate that 2020 will be the year in which this energy solution can reach a new milestone, being cheaper than "the marginal cost of existing coal-fired power plants". A technology that "is developing at a much higher rate than the most optimistic experts had estimated," congratulates the last memory of the Spanish Photovoltaic Union (UNEF). The trend will continue in the coming years. According to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimate cited by UNEF, photovoltaic energy "will continue to reduce its costs by 34%" until 2030.

In UNEF they consider that this is due "in addition to a greater environmental awareness, to an economic competitiveness of renewable energies". At this point it has been especially important "the drop in prices of photovoltaic modules, which have decreased their cost by 90% since the end of 2009".

This has to do, on the one hand, with technological evolution, since "necessary investments have been made in R&D that have led to this improvement, which has led to double the productivity of each cell." On the other, with economies of scale. "It is a very sensitive market to scalability, and it is getting bigger," explains the director of this sector association, José Donoso, in declarations to this newspaper, where he emphasizes that "the price has not touched ground yet."

Evolution of the cost of power generation.

Evolution of the cost of power generation.


Donoso also highlights the role of Spain in the development of photovoltaic energy. For sample, the installed power has almost doubled in just one year: between 2017 and 2018 it went from 135 to 262 megawatts. This is due to the geographical situation of the country, which makes it "have more sun than the northern European countries", but also to the peculiarity of the territory. Since there is a low population density - and, therefore, large portions of uninhabited territory - "there are much more spaces in which to create large photovoltaic installations, something that in Germany, the United Kingdom or Italy cannot do." "Thanks to this, in addition to having clean energy, it will be cheaper than in other countries," he says. However, the latter will mean that "in Spain most of the development will be large-scale projects , while 10% will be self-consumption ", since the market is going to tend this type of megaprojects. According to the calculations of this association, in the big foltovoltaic plants it is already produced "at half the price than in the traditional ones". The average production of these was "54 euros per megawatt per hour, while in photovoltaics it occurs in the environment of 25 euros."

This week the Citizen Platform for a Fair Ecological Transition has been launched, with a critical manifesto with the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan 2021-30 (PNIEC), prepared by the Institute for Diversification and Energy Saving (IDAE). "It promotes the industrialization of the field by means of the implantation of megacentrales of renewable energy production (solar and wind), which would imply turning the rural world into a producer of energy destined for export," they denounce.

One of its drivers is Javier García Breva, an energy policy expert who led the IDAE between 2004 and 2005. García asks to differentiate between "large-scale photovoltaic installations, greater than one megawatt, and small ones, mainly aimed at self-consumption and distributed generation ". Among the advantages of this energy, it stands out that it is "the only renewable one that can be modulated: it can be installed from 1 to 200 megawatts and anywhere". Therefore, he criticizes that PIGMIE "does not make this differentiation" in a context in which "large photovoltaic installations of hundreds of megawatts are being promoted".

For this expert, another key of the photovoltaic energies is that "they can be installed next to a center of consumption". "It is the ideal technology for distributed generation, which means converting each consumption center into a generation center," he says to remind that "other renewable energy companies cannot do it."

For a more powerful ecological transition, "photovoltaic consumption has to be a mandatory standard in the construction of new buildings," he suggests by way of example. Another idea that he proposes is that "electric vehicle charging infrastructures be developed, because Spain is at the tail: they should not be taken only to the roads, also where people live or work."

"Photovoltaic self-consumption is a very good opportunity for citizens, for the environment and for the Spanish economy," argues Lorenzo Olivieri, a professor at the Polytechnic University of Madrid and an expert in energy efficiency. "It is a very powerful tool to reduce electricity bills, to reduce the carbon footprint of our energy supply and to generate green jobs," he says to emphasize that "it is a very profitable investment, both for companies and citizens" .

A totally clean alternative?

"We start from the budget that all human activities, and all technologies, have an environmental impact," says Olivieri. In the case of photovoltaic modules - "especially those based on silicon, which are mostly used today," he considers that "they do not incorporate particularly critical materials in this regard."

As proof, he says that "practically all the materials used to make them are recycled", such as silicon, glass, aluminum, copper, plastics or silver. But what happens to those who don't? "Basically it is the polymer that is used to adhere cells to glass and electrically insulate them, which burns to harness their energy," he replies.

On the energy expenditure required to manufacture these components, Olivieri calculates that "with the irradiation of Spain, it recovers in 2 or 3 years, while the useful life is of the order of 20 or 30 years, with which the energy investment is also profitable". As for the batteries, built with lithium, remember that "in the vast majority of cases, self-consumption facilities do not need batteries, as they are connected to the power grid."

For his part, García says that, from an ecological perspective, in photovoltaic energy "there is no risk, because it is a mature technology", although he recognizes that the most polluting technologies of manufacturing some solar cells or batteries is "a complicated matter. " "Manufacturing batteries with other materials is one of the focuses of more research, so there will be increasingly more efficient and less polluting batteries."

The role of the regulator

At the opening of COP25, the Government announced that activated the elaboration of the National Self-Consumption Strategy. Specifically, it is about establishing a scenario of penetration until 2030 of this type of energy that, as indicated by all the sources consulted, arrives late to Spain. The objective is, in addition to estimating "the maximum photovoltaic power for self-consumption that can be installed", also detail "the path of growth" for that period and analyzing "the impact that the introduction of accumulation systems would have on the estimated technical potential".

In UNEF they celebrate that the change of Government has caused that the role of the regulator is "totally different from the one of before, now there is a very good disposition". "What is now needed in self-consumption is to overcome economic and administrative barriers, although the main ones have been eliminated thanks to the self-consumption decree, but also as of 15/2018," they explain while adding that the fact of the invoice is pending: "The price has to accompany the ecological transition."

"There has been a great hurry, in the best sense of the word, to approve decree 15/2018, which breaks down all the barriers that had been created for self-consumption," Garcia agrees. The following, he adds, "is to develop this issue, because there are still some fringes, such as self-consumption surpluses." "The progress is great, nobody thought that this Government would be so brave in this matter," he congratulates. "Spain has had paralysis from 2012 to 2018, and now it is recovering."

"The relationship between photovoltaic solar energy and Spain has been one of love and hate," says Olivieri. He illustrates it in the following way: "In a decade, we have been through almost everything. From premiums to the very appetizing generation that made Spain the first global photovoltaic market in 2008 to retroactive moratoriums to the renewable ones that annihilated the market, with sun taxes difficult to justify. "

Now, he recognizes that the "regulatory framework is very favorable to self-consumption". "These ups and downs have removed society from this technology, and this is a shame since we are in one of the countries in Europe with the greatest solar resource: we have to quickly recover the lost ground," he concludes.

. (tagsToTranslate) energy (t) photovoltaic (t) cheap (t) production (t) reduced

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