A household with no electricity bills

2016-02-12 09:00:00

For nearly a year, the sun has been the only source of electricity in the home of an engineer who is convinced that another energy model is possible.
Miguel Torres doesn’t look like a revolutionary or a hippy. He looks more like a university lecturer with his grey hair, his measured way of speaking and the way in which he explains things. His terraced house in the Balcón de Olletas residential development in Malaga doesn’t look out of the ordinary. Or so it seems. Because the home which this industrial technical engineer shares with his wife and two children has become one of the prime examples of energy dissidence in Malaga. It isn’t that he has done anything illegal: just that he has disconnected it from the mains electricity supply after becoming self-sufficient thanks to a photovoltaic system installed on the roof.
Miguel, who has worked in the construction and energy efficiency sector for over 20 years, believes his system is unique in the city. “The only other completely self-sufficient houses are in rural areas,” he says
So why did he decide to convert his house into an energy island? “It was partly a type of rebellion,” he admits. Rebellion against what? Against the government’s plans to introduce the so-called ‘backup charge’, which will oblige people who have a self-sufficient system but who are connected to the mains to pay for the energy which they themselves are generating. The justification is that these people use the electricity grid as a backup, so they too should pay something towards the cost of this infrastructure.
As a result, there is now a citizens’ movement against what is being called a “sun tax”which, even before being approved, has already paralysed the incipient development of self-sufficient electricity systems. “This is an obvious manoeuvre to protect the interests of the big electricity companies” says Miguel, who is part of the Plataforma por un Nuevo Modelo Energético group.
The other reason he wanted to take this unusual step was to “set an example”, because he has recently opened his own company, Atepo, which advises businesses and individuals about energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. “If I don’t use what I want to sell, what credibility will Ihave?” he asks.
With this mixture of personal and professional motivation, last summer Miguel Torres se t about making his home self-sufficient in terms of energy. To do so, he installed a system of photovoltaic panels on his roof terrace, with 4.3 kilowatts of peak power, a battery and a power converter, among other elements. The house already had solar panels for heating water.
“I obtained a subsidy from the Support Plan for Sustainable Construction which covered 80 per cent of the cost, which was about 20,000 euros, although in fact it works out at less because the subsidy has to be declared for tax purposes,” he explains. He calculates that he will have recovered his investment in four years, as he was paying about 100 euros a month for electricity. “If we had not had the subsidy it would have been different: it would have taken 15 years and we would have had to think hard about that,” he admits.
Passing the test of winter
Since July 2014, the Torres family has received no electricity bills. All the domestic electrical equipment and lights are solar-powered. Miguel says the winter was the real test, and the system passed with flying colours. “We weren’t without electricity for a single minute. If there is sunshine, we produce 40 per cent more energy than we consume. If there isn’t, the battery gives us autonomy for four or five days,” he explains.
At any time, the family can see on their computer how much energy is being produced and used. “When there are a couple of days with no sun we are more careful: for example, we don’t use the dishwasher. On the other hand, in summer we use the air conditioning even when we don’t need it, because if you don’t use the energy you lose it,” he jokes. In fact, that is the only disadvantage. “I would actually like to connect to the mains to add our surplus energy to it. Let’s hope the government changes its mind and promotes renewable energies. It is ridiculous for a country like Spain not to,” he insists.source surinenglish