Despite being one of the countries in Europe with the most hours of sunshine, Spain has extremely low levels of solar home installations. Madrid-based Samara, a startup founded in May this year – which is now launching a service in its home market – wants to change that, spotting what it sees as a major opportunity to accelerate the market’s transition to energy. renewable.
The startup has just closed a €2 million pre-seed financing to develop technology that simplifies the process of installing solar energy systems, batteries and electric vehicle chargers for households, as well as to develop digital tools allowing households to manage their use. The round is led by European and Latin American venture capital firm, Seaya and Pelion Green Future, an investment holding focused on clean energy and climate technology.
Samara’s approach resembles that of Berlin-based Zolar, which offers an online configurator to help households choose a photovoltaic system to buy or rent and other digital energy products, as well as connect them to a network of local installers to carry out the work.
“We really want to make it easier for customers to adopt solar power,” says Samara co-founder Iván Cabezuela. “That means simplifying the experience by using software and technology to create easier customer proposals, easier projects – like customers can see where panels will fit in their home through 3D design, and see what would be their savings, and things like that.”
This will include creating an installer management application for third-party installers that Samara wants its platform to work with.
Samara’s other co-founder, Manel Pujol, points out how the German home solar market is much more mature than Spain, but he says they hope their home market can catch up and take advantage of everything. the abundant Spanish sun.
“In Spain there is a huge gap between the penetration you would expect from a country like Spain and some other countries in Europe,” he told TechCrunch, citing figures from last year. while there were only around 70,000 completed solar installations in the country compared to 2019. some 1.5 million in Germany. (For a little more context, Spain has around 6 million households in total.)
“It actually means that 99.6% of the market is still untapped,” adds Cabezuela.
Samara co-founders say the reason Spain is lagging behind in solar home installation comes down to the lack of a supportive legal framework – with, until 2020, no clear regulations allowing households to resell the excess energy produced by the solar panels to the network, for example . Additionally, distribution and transmission taxes were actually applied to household-generated solar power, which discouraged the adoption of clean energy by further undermining the unit’s economics.
Regulatory barriers essentially meant that the Spanish domestic solar market was capped until very recently. And this historic underdevelopment means the market has a relative lack of residential-focused solar installation companies – with only around 1,000 small such companies at this point.
However, the Samara co-founders say this is another key part of the opportunity they have in front of them now.
“The way the actual process [of delivering residential solar] is done has a lot of room for improvement,” says Pujol. “From how you simulate production at home, what software you use, how you make those estimates, how you present that information to the customer, and how you basically capture it with that information . But it also has to do, in the longer term, with what technology are you building to manage this energy ecosystem in the customer’s home?
“Because we’re going from a world where the power was delivered to you by cable and there was no management to a world where you’re suddenly going to have production, you’re going to have storage, you’re going to have a car You’ll most likely be electrifying your heating, which in many cases is two-thirds of your home’s energy use, so there’s a big electrification component going on at the residential and there’s no clear way to handle that properly, so we also want to – as we go – develop the technology to do that.
That said, if the startup wants to scale, it will need the residential installer industry to grow with it — as well as gaining traction with adopting the digital tools they’re building. Which means expanding the network and skills of installers is at the heart of Samara’s mission.
“We see a huge opportunity to create high-quality green energy jobs,” says Cabezuela. “Spain is going to see over 350,000 new green energy jobs created by 2030, so we see a great opportunity for hiring, training and development – a lot of people are creating that opportunity, so when you look at Spain, we think it is a market that can effectively become the benchmark player in solar and [reskilling]. It is already quite advanced in some aspects.
Broader regional movements are also stimulating the creation of green jobs. The EU’s “Green Deal” investment strategy, for example – which aims to make the bloc “climate neutral” by 2050 via a plan to attract €1 trillion in public and private investment over the course of of the next decade to accelerate Europe’s green transition – includes a focus on training and upskilling the jobs of the future, which means Member States like Spain are in line for continued support of the EU to transform their industries and economies through the development of green jobs.
Another hurdle is the sheer cost to households of installing solar – although with more favorable regulation, the economics of the unit have at least improved. According to Samara, the cost to (just) install a solar system can be in the region of €7,000 – but they say typical savings are 50-70% of the electricity bill.
The installation of a battery – which allows the energy generated by the household’s solar system to be stored (i.e., allowing it to consume more of its own clean energy generated for free, thus potentially saving more on its energy costs) – costs around €4,000. While an EV charger can be included as part of the service offered by Samara for around €1,500.
Another feature of the Spanish market that could be a barrier to scaling up residential solar power is the fact that a large proportion of housing consists of apartments in apartment buildings – where households can do not have direct access to the roof. Here, however, the startup believes it provides an additional opportunity for the smart digital management software it’s building.
“This is the third piece of regulation that has happened in the last couple of years, which has been really encouraging and exciting for us. So basically energy communities and energy storage regulation are now regulated in Spain,” explains Cabezuela. “Spain has quite modern regulations when it comes to energy communities, this means that you can install solar panels on any roof of any building and supply any user of energy located 500 meters from this facility – so this means that in community buildings you can do common facilities, i.e. use a common roof and distribute this energy to neighbors and even people who live in nearby buildings.
“We think it’s also a really exciting opportunity to bring technology to the way people share their energy,” he adds.
Samara’s co-founders began their careers working in investment banking, but also bring extensive experience in scaling and operating high-growth tech companies – Cabezuela being the former Amazon, the ex-Uber Eats and also the former national director of clean energy startup, Bulb in Spain, while Pujol is a former national director of Uber Eats and was also the managing director of the French startup d health insurance, Alan.
While fast-paced Uber-branded commerce may seem far from contributing to a clean energy transition, Pujol points to a common thread.
“They have one thing in common which is very important to us and which has been a big part of the [decision to co-found Samara] — How do you build an offer in a market where supply is limited? Iván and myself during the days of Uber Eats and also for myself when I was at Uber, we saw what it took to develop the offer and use the technology to achieve that and make it very efficient. And we saw an opportunity here too to do that.