The rise of photovoltaic self-consumption: an ally in the fight against climate change
In recent years, the rise in photovoltaic self-consumption has seen solar panels becoming a common feature in urban and rural landscapes around the world. The boom in this type of self-consumption, which is also part of the fight against climate change, is the result of technological advances, a decrease in the price of the components needed for these installations, a reduction in the amount of red tape, and help at both local and national levels.
The increase in the use of solar panels in recent years is linked to an increase in photovoltaic self-consumption.
The term "photovoltaic" is made up of the words "photo", which comes from the Greek word "phos", meaning "light"; and "voltaic", which originated in the field of electricity, as a tribute to the physicist Alessandro Volta, who invented the battery. Photovoltaic energy can therefore be defined as energy produced by light. Although the modern era of solar technology began in 1954, when Bell Laboratories accidentally discovered that silicon semiconductors doped with certain impurities were hypersensitive to light, solar panels were not mass produced until the 1990s. They are now an essential part of the rise in photovoltaic self-consumption, which is the most widespread type of electricity generation for self-consumption.
What is PV self-consumption
Photovoltaic self-consumption occurs when individuals or companies consume the energy produced by photovoltaic generation installations located close to the place in which that energy is consumed. In addition to solar panels themselves, photovoltaic self-consumption installations include other elements such as inverters, cables, connectors and, optionally, batteries. This type of consumption not only leads to lower electricity bills, but also contributes to reducing climate change since it uses renewable energy.
Types of photovoltaic self-consumption
Leaving aside installations that are not connected to the electrical grid — usually located in rural areas —, there are two types of photovoltaic self-consumption, depending on where the excess energy is sent; i.e. energy that is not used by the owner of the facility:
- Self-consumption without surpluses
These installations have an anti-waste system that prevents excess energy being exported to the grid. Batteries may be added, just as for self-consumption with surpluses, to store the excess energy and use it, for example at night or on cloudy days, especially now that the cost of lithium batteries is substantially lower.
- Self-consumption with surpluses
These installations allow surplus energy to be exported to the transmission and distribution grid. Users can sell the energy to the grid or benefit from so-called net balance — also called net metering —, where the energy exported to the grid is offset in the subsequent bill (or bills), depending on the country.
Tips for PV self-consumption
These are some of the steps and recommendations that you should follow when installing your own photovoltaic facility, to start enjoying the benefits of self-consumption:
- Have a suitable space that gets as much sunlight as possible — roof, garden, terrace, etc. —.
- Make sure the photovoltaic panels are facing south (this is preferable although not essential) because the panels are more productive when the sun's rays fall on them perpendicularly.
- Contact a specialist company to deal with the necessary technical and administrative steps, as well as installation.
- Take advantage of the benefits offered by the authorities in different countries, such as tax relief (USA), reductions in property tax (Spain), and reductions in income tax (France).
Tips for PV self-consumption (spanish version).
Tips for PV self-consumption (spanish version).
Regulations and legislations on self-consumption
In recent years, governments all over the world have introduced measures to ease the red tape associated with self-consumption, and to offer financial incentives to users. The United Kingdom and Germany, for example, pay self-consumers per kWh that they export to the electrical grid. Italy and Chile reduce their clients' bills by an amount proportional to the kWh exported to the electrical grid, while Portugal and Australia allow net metering. This is the legal situation in other countries:
The repeal of the so-called sun tax in 2018 and the new Royal Decree 244/2019 saw the start of a new era in photovoltaic self-consumption in Europe's sunniest country. The new Royal Decree included benefits such as encouraging collective self-consumption — multi-occupancy residential buildings, business parks, etc. —; simplifying bureaucracy; and the introduction of "simplified offsetting" for surpluses, a concept similar to net metering.
Since 2012, when Brazil regulated its Distributed Generation (DG) system, around 140,000 consumers (both individuals and companies) have been producing their own electricity, principally using photovoltaic panels. However, the possibility of applying a sun tax has recently divided the country, exposing a gap between the government, which is in favour of a zero tariff for self-consumers, and Brazil's National Agency for Electrical Energy — the regulatory body — which wants to remove the incentives.
At a national level, the USA has a Federal Solar Tax Credit, a government incentive that allows self-consumers to deduct 26 % of the cost of their photovoltaic facility. Until 2019, it was 30 %, and in 2022 it will disappear altogether. However, individual states can regulate self-consumption within their own borders, and, currently, over 40 states have put in place variations on net metering policies to regulate self-consumption.
Prior to the wide-reaching energy reforms introduced by the Mexican government in late 2013, Distributed Generation (DG) was only allowed in self-consumption, with no possibility of selling surpluses to the electrical grid. However, current regulations allow the sale of electrical energy via the DG scheme. In 2017, Mexico's Energy Regulatory Commission approved measures to boost these reforms, which included net metering compensation schemes, net billing and total sales.