With soaring energy costs and, given that Valencia enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year, it might well be that you should consider the savings you would receive from solar panels installation. Eugene Costello went to meet the expert in the field, Roy Cook of VLC Solar. And with a 20% discount for Valencia Life readers, make hay while the sun shines…
In the two-and-a-half years since I moved to Valencia from London, I often saw the name Roy Cook pop up whenever anyone asked in “expat” groups about solar panels installation. These messages always said that he is the best when it comes to such installations.
So I reached out to Roy and we arranged to meet the other day at La Cantina de la Piscina in L’Eliana. It takes roughly an hour from where I live in Ruzafa, a pleasant journey through La Huerta up to L’Eliana, passing through fields and small towns around Metro stations.
L’Eliana is a popular commuter town, all privet hedges and spacious villas. About a 15-minute walk from the Metro station is the municipal outdoor piscina. It’s a well-laid-out open-air pool with a half-decent café in the landscaped gardens. This is where I meet Roy Cook, owner of VLC Solar.
Roy, 56, originally from Kettering, Northamptonshire, moved to Spain years ago. He moved with his first wife and, later, his parents, moving first to Ruzafa and then further out, to Chulilla.
“My ex-wife saw a property online and after viewing a few, it was the one we bought,” says Roy.
The marriage didn’t endure and these days, Roy is married again. In fact, he has just been visiting Madrid to look at accommodation for his two stepdaughters who are planning to continue their studies there.
When Roy first moved out to Valencia, he started out working as a freelance electrical engineer, mainly fitting satellite broadband and doing Sky installations for the expat community.
“Mum and Dad also moved over, but sadly they died within a week of each other, Mum of a pulmonary condition and Dad technically of cancer, though I suspect asbestosis from conditions during his working life.”
In fact, Roy helped to set up the multi-screen offering at Ruzafa’s sports bar, the Liverpool, for Amadeo García Moledo, its ebullient owner.
Roy built up a decent customer base made up of Brits, Irish, French, German and Belgians through word of mouth.
Then in recent years, he began to become increasingly interested in the exciting possibilities of solar panels installation – “a no-brainer,” he says, “living here in Spain, with more sunshine days than almost all the rest of Europe.”
He is now regarded as one of the best and most reliable subcontractors for solar panels installation for the expat community in and around Valencia.
He also works with a Spanish agent to ensure that his clients can make the most of incentives from the government and to ensure that all the necessary paperwork is completed to ensure that all installations are compliant with the appropriate legislation.
There are two types of installations he can do.
Living off the grid
The first is for homes in el campo that are presently off the grid for electricity.
“These are simply solar panels, with an inverter and lithium battery modules,” says Roy. “The lithium batteries are for storage and supply, and are known for their longevity – for instance, street lamps work off lithium batteries, which will last for a minimum of ten years.
“And that is based on regular full cycles, meaning from full to flat, which hardly ever happens.”
For those clients who wish to be self-sustainable, this is a great option. After solar panels installation, the system should power an average home, only drawing on storage from the batteries when necessary, such as after a few gloomy days with little sunshine.
Blended grid (auto consúmo)
“Again, this requires a good deal of paperwork to ensure that the install is fully compliant, but the good news is that companies are now introducing variable tariffs.
“This allows you to buy energy via your provider from the grid, when it is at its cheapest, and sell any surplus back to the grid during peak times, when it is most expensive, so is a very sensible approach,” says Roy.
A blended grid approach gives you the best of both worlds. The well-known UK energy company Octopus Energy has led the way there in terms of flexible tariffs, known as “agile tariffs”, that will allow you to buy energy from the grid when it is at its very cheapest, normally between midnight and 6am, then sell any surplus back to the grid at a higher rate.
Now they have entered the Spanish market, and similarly offer a product known as “autoconsúmo” designed to work with storage systems such as solar panels installation.
Government help for the switch to solar
There are various rebates that the homeowner considering solar panels installation can benefit from. These are calculated on watts used.
To complete the notoriously difficult forms, Roy’s company can handle this for you.
There are also fees to sign off the completed paperwork of €400, charged by the government, as well as other fees relating to planning permission and such like, meaning it can work out at around €1,200 in total. The EU can rebate up to 40% of these installation costs. And up to 50% of IBI – household taxes – can also be claimed back from the municipality.
The rebate is based upon the power of the installations, and works out at around €600 per KW.
“It is a complex process,” says Roy, “because the solar panels and usage have to be calibrated and signed off by the Generalitat, which like so many things in Spain, means we use a gestor with knowledge of the process.”
So how much should you budget?
Roy goes through the numbers with me.
For an off-grid system, the typical install will consist of:
A 5kw system
• 5kw panels
• a 5kw inverter
• a supply of no less than 5KWh
Roy stresses that it is strongly advisable to have a decent back-up generator “so that everything doesn’t cut out after a few gloomy days in the middle of a Netflix movie with dinner in the oven.
“These are not cheap, costing from a few hundred euros up to several thousand, so it is largely dictated by your budget.
The good news is that while the product warranties (batteries and panels) are for ten years, and the inverters five years, the operation warranty on the panels is for 25 years, giving you long-term peace of mind.
“In 12 years, I have only had to replace two inverters,” says Roy, “and they were cheaper brands.”
For this reason, says Roy, “I now only use one brand of inverter because it is awesome.”
Roy advises biting the bullet and buying everything needed at the same time, panels, batteries and inverter, because retrofitting down the line, say, to add batteries is not possible so would require the entire system to be done again.
“The beauty of the system is that the inverter can ‘talk’ to the grid to draw electricity when it is cheapest to recharge the batteries so that by the time you are up for breakfast, you are now using lovely, cheap – sometimes, free – electricity,” says Roy.
And when it comes to on-grid, or balanced, systems, “you can pretty much neutralise everything you pay Iberdrola by selling power back to them.”
Off the top of his head, says Roy, Iberdrola pays €0.8 per kw of bought-back electricity, while others – including Nordic – pay €0.10.
Roy estimates that for an off-grid system, clients should budget for around €7,000, perhaps €7,500 for a blended grid solution without storage, though he points out that 40-50% of this will be rebated..
Business is booming, says Roy – in fact, he has opportunities for bilingual fitters and installers who are autónomos. And with the government’s stated aim to move away from fossil fuel energy to sustainable, there has never been a better time to make hay while the sun shines.
• Contact Roy at VLCSolar.com or via WhatsApp on +34 699 826 701 for a no-obligation quote…