At the foot of a mountain range, 25 kilometers away from the coastline of Alicante, in Southeast Spain, lies the village of Crevillent — one of the country’s driest places. Not a promising fact for a Mediterranean region particularly vulnerable to the changing climate. But Crevillent’s almost 30,000 inhabitants are turning this negative feature into an opportunity to fight the climate crisis.
As less rain also means more hours of sunshine, the town is betting on solar photovoltaic technology to become Spain’s first local energy community. A city where residents will consume self-generated electricity from PV panels, they will collectively own.
The budget for the adaptation of the site, led by local electricity cooperative Enercoop, is 400,000 euros, of which 300,000 are brought on by innovation project MERLON. This European Union-led initiative focuses on optimization of local energy systems, and Crevillent’s first steps transitioning towards an independent energy community will serve as its “living lab” in Spain.
The initial phase of the project will conclude by the end of this year, with the installation of 120 kW that will provide energy for about 70 households. Its lithium-ion energy-storage system of 200 kWh will allow citizens to produce energy during the day and consume it at night as well as to rely on off-grid electricity in case of blackouts.
Looking for space
This will be MERLON’s pilot experience in Spain, but the cooperative’s goal is to extend the coverage so the entire town of Crevillent is independent, energy-wise, by 2030. For that to happen, they will need to find space for all those PV panels that will supply the community’s electricity demand. This is one of the main obstacles the village is facing.
“In a city that, like much of the Spanish eastern coast, has expanded in height, the availability of rooftop space is limited”, says Joaquin Mas, who is the current director of Enercoop. However, Mas is not too worried about it. The municipality is giving up public facilities’ rooftops —schools, swimming pools, sports clubs, green areas, etc.— to install the community’s solar panels, and they expect private owners to do the same.
The city of Crevillent also has an important element in its favour. Practically the entire town gets its energy supply from Enercoop, which, unlike most Spanish energy cooperatives, is not only a seller of electricity but is also a distributor. This is an exception in Spain, where five main companies split the electricity distribution so that each one of them operates in one jurisdiction territory.
“Crevillent is one of the few places where the electricity distribution relies on a local cooperative. This is due to historical reasons: in 1925, there was simply no interest in electrifying the town, whose economy depended on its rug industry. So the townspeople came together and created the cooperative to take care of the energy distribution”, Joaquin Mas explains.
For that reason, virtually all of Crevillent’s residents are members of the cooperative and they feel culturally attached to it. “It’s in our DNA. Our parents and grandparents created it a hundred years ago. Now I don’t know anybody who gets their electricity from any other supplier”, says Salvador Ferrández, one of the most enthusiastic members of this future community.
Although right now he does not see the same level of excitement in many of his neighbours, he believes that once they become an independent energy community it will enhance energy culture at Crevillent, especially when people start feeling the change in their pockets. “In the end is what we care about”, he admits.
Consumers will not have to make any investment, as much of the budget is funded by the EU project MERLON and the rest will be assumed by the cooperative. But they will benefit from the lower generation costs. Once the energy community is set up, consumers will see a 15-20% reduction in their annual electricity bill, Joaquín Mas assures.
Most importantly, they will become producers of their own energy, which democratizes electricity consumption, Andreu Escrivà, an environmental scientist and a former member of the regional government’s Climate Change Committee, remarks. “These communities are relevant to show that the energy transition is not about changing one power socket for another, or about using solar panels instead of thermal power plants”, he says.
“Having huge energy production units, unrelated to consumption, prevents the democratization of energy. We have to go towards a scenario in which citizens are capable of making decisions”.