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Can Spain power Europe with its solar energy as Elon Musk suggests?

The SpaceX and Tesla billionaire has weighed in on Spain’s plans to be a leader in tech and digital transformation by suggesting the country “power all of Europe” with “a massive solar array”. Does Spain have what it takes?

Can Spain power Europe with its solar energy as Elon Musk suggests?
Spain is currently exporting more solar power than ever before. Does Elon Musk has his finger on the pulse about the country's energetic potential? (Photo by Patrick Pleul / POOL / AFP)

“Spain should build a massive solar array. Could power all of Europe,” tweeted Elon Musk on Monday in response to a story published in tech website Slashdot about the Spanish government’s plans to become a huge producer of microchips. 

READ MORE: Spain to invest €11 billion to become Europe’s microchip factory

The billionaire’s comments are certainly serving to help promote Spain as a country determined to change its economic model from tourism and services dependent to a tech and renewables powerhouse. 

Meta, IBM, Google and Amazon are also among the big players that have announced they will set up huge data centres and create thousands of jobs in Spain in the coming years.

Thanks to billions of euros in EU recovery funds, Spain’s Prime Minister has been able to announce ambitious projects that will contribute to the country’s digital transformation. 

Solar power has so far not been one of those main pillars, but that may be because it’s already an industry that’s in full swing in Spain, which suggests Elon Musk does have his finger on the pulse.

In 2019, the country returned to being Europe’s biggest solar energy producer after an 11-year plateau in the industry’s development. 

This slump came in large part as a result of legislation introduced in 2013 which made it compulsory for any individual or company to hook their solar panels up to the national grid to be metered and taxed, or face fines running into millions of euros.

Luckily, this controversial ‘solar tax’ – slammed as “stupid” and “ludicrous” in international publications – is now a thing of the past, after the law was scrapped in 2018 and other measures were introduced to make energy self-sufficiency easier.

This has spurred a ‘solar panel rush’ in Spain, along with the fact that national electricity rates in the country have kept beating records in 2021 and 2022.

In early 2022, Spain was exporting record amounts of solar energy, especially to France and Portugal, at a favourable price. 

This has been largely due to the fact the network of electricity interconnections Spain has with its nearest neighbours grew by 233 percent in 2021, tripling the revenue for Spain from these exports up to €110 million. 

So what’s stopping Spain from doing what Elon Musk suggests?

For starters, a huge investment to improve the interconnections network across the continent and perhaps five billion more solar panels. 

Despite Spain’s recent growth in interconnections capacity, in 2020 it had still not reached the minimum of 10 percent recommended by the European Union for, the only European country to fall short, according to the European Network of Managers of Electricity Transmission Networks (ENTSO-E).

The EU consumes around 11 percent of the world energy total and according to industry experts it would reportedly take 51.4 billion 350W solar panels to power the world.

This explains Spain’s former Minister of Science and Innovation Pedro Duque’s reply to Elon Musk: “We welcome investments in Spain to boost our already large production of renewables. All our legal framework is prepared for it. Know any investors?”.

In the context of the war in Ukraine and what Putin’s invasion has meant for some European countries dependent on Russian gas, the European Commission recently said that it will do “whatever it takes” to transform Europe’s solar manufacturing industry.

There is still plenty of growth potential for Spain in terms of solar power installations, with little more than 10,000 roofs in the country having solar panels in 2020. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

China is the world’s top manufacturer of solar energy followed by the United States, India, Japan and Vietnam. European countries lag behind in terms of solar panel production, with Spain among other manufacturers on the continent as well as France, Italy and Slovenia.

As the EU’s attention turns to energy self-sufficiency, sunny Spain certainly appears to have the potential to be able to lead the way, in terms of both natural gas dispensation and renewable energy.

It won’t be able to do it alone, however. 

Spain has a fragile economy that suffered greatly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and only the investment of billions of euros from Brussels allowed it to get back on its feet and embark on ambitious transformation projects. 

Perhaps a cash injection from Elon Musk himself – a man with a reported net worth of $267 billion in 2022 – could help take Spain’s photovoltaic industry to a whole new level?

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez seems to think so, having replied to Musk’s tweet with: “We’re already implementing (the) most ambitious plan towards (an) efficient & sustainable energy system. All sectors on board. Maximizing opportunities, digitalization and value chain for a long lasting success. (The) time is now. Let’s get it right. Come and see. We welcome investors in Spain”.

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ENERGY

How to change the title holder of utility bills in Spain

When you move into a new property in Spain you will need to change the account or contract holder over, so that any future water, electricity or gas bills will be in your name. It's not as easy as you may think; here's how you go about it.

How to change the title holder of utility bills in Spain

Changing the name on your utility bills and the payment details should in theory be relatively straightforward, however you may come up against some common problems which can make the change pretty complicated.

Firstly, you will need to find out which energy companies have been contracted for your property.

You can do this by asking the previous owner themselves, contacting your landlord if you’re renting or asking your estate agent to find out for you.

When it comes to water, this should be provided by your local council or city, so you won’t need to contact the previous occupant for this one. 

How do I change the title over?

When you first move in, remember to note down the numbers on the gas, electricity and water meters, so you can give these to the utility companies and they can record how much you should owe, instead of having to pay for the previous occupant’s consumption as well.

Next, you will then need to contact the energy company supplying your property or water provider and ask for a cambio de titular a nombre del arrendatario o comprador (ask for a change of ownership in the name of the renter or buyer).

The process should be completely free for electricity and gas, but in some cities, you may need to pay a deposit for changing the title of the water bill, which you should get back when you vacate the property. The deposit can be anywhere between €50 and €100.

Contacting the energy company by phone may be the best way to make sure everything is done correctly, but some companies also have online forms where you can request a title change. When it comes to water, most cities will have water offices you can visit or specific e-mail addresses if you can’t contact them over the phone. 

There are a few pieces of information you’ll need to have on hand before you contact the company. These are:

  • The full name of the previous person who had the bills in their name
  • Your NIE / DNI
  • The address of the property
  • The date you moved in
  • The CUPS code (not needed for water)
  • Your padrón certificate (for water only)
  • A copy of the deeds of the property or rental contract
  • Your bank details

With all this information, they should be able to change the name over on the account relatively quickly, so that any future energy bills will go directly to you.

At this time, you can also change your tariff or amount of energy contracted to suit your individual needs.

How do I find the CUPS code?

The CUPS code or Código Unificado del Punto de Suministro (Universal Supply Point Code) is a number that identifies each individual property that receives electricity or gas. The number doesn’t change, so you could ask the previous occupant for this as it will be written on their energy bills.

Alternatively, if this isn’t possible you can contact your energy distributor – these are assigned by area and stay the same. By giving them your name, address and ID number such as NIE, they will be able to give you the CUPS code associated with your property.

What if I want to change to a new energy company?

If you’d prefer not to contract the energy company that the previous owner had, you can also choose to go with a new one. In this case, you will still need all of the same information and numbers as above, but you will contact the energy provider of your choice and the type of tariff you want to pay.

How long will it take to change the name over?

It can take between 1 and 20 days for the bills to be changed over into your name. The previous occupant will receive their final bill and then you will receive the new one from the date you moved in.

What are some of the problems I might come up against?

The most common problem is when the previous occupant is not up to date on paying their bills and has some outstanding debt. In this case, if you try to change the title over into your name, you will also be inheriting the pervious owner’s debt.

In this case, you will have to get the previous occupant to pay their outstanding bill before you can change it over into your name. If you have problems getting them to pay their bill, then you can show proof of the date you moved in by sending in a copy of your deeds or rental contract. This should in theory allow for the transfer of ownership without having to take on the debt, however it can be tricky process, often calling the energy company multiple times and waiting for verification of the proof.

What if the energy services have been cut off?

In the case that the property has been uninhabited for some time, the previous owners may have deactivated or cut off the utilities. If this is the case, then you will need to call the energy providers to activate them again. This will typically involve paying several fees to be able to get them up and running. The amount you pay will depend on the energy distributor and where the property is based in Spain. 

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