TBY talks to Alejandro del Amo, CEO of Abora Solar, about hybrid solar panels, the company's internationalization process, and projects in Latin America.

Abora, which was founded in 2017, focuses on manufacturing hybrid solar panels. What are the main differences between hybrid and conventional photovoltaic solar panels?

It is important to distinguish between solar photovoltaic energy, which generates electricity, and thermal energy, which heats water. A hybrid panel generates four to five times more energy than a photovoltaic panel. Therefore, Abora's aim is to create the most cost-effective solar panel on the market. In order to achieve this, we must improve our performance and reduce costs. To date, renewable energies have been installed on account of legal obligation to comply with regulations, or because of subsidies. However, it is crucial to put aside any kind of external support we may receive and focus on a self-sustainable project. This is the most profitable technology, and, therefore, is affordable.

What type of customers can benefit from Abora's projects?

Hybrid panels are positioned on top of buildings that consume hot water and electricity, for instance hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, swimming pools, and industrial complexes, among others. Hence, every building that consumes both electricity and hot water can benefit from installing hybrid panels by Abora, since it can benefit from solar energy and an effective cost reduction. For example, in 2008, a photovoltaic panel cost EUR4.50 per watt peak, but this is now EUR0.50 per watt peak. Therefore, it was not cost-effective to start a photovoltaic business, unless it was large-scale, and because of that, all factories were relocated overseas. Instead of reducing the price by relocating factories, Abora intends to improve performance to obtain a greater benefit and create jobs in Spain. Thus, our production line will never be relocated outside Spain.

How is Abora doing in terms of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals?

Abora forms part of the 2030 Agenda from the beginning. Europe wants to decarbonize its economy by 2050, and many projects will therefore be implemented over the course of this decade. These projects will then be replicated in order to achieve that objective. Therefore, it is extremely important to create a partnership with Solar Heat Europe, where all decisions will be made. In 2020, we were given a subsidy in order to develop our next panel, which is set for release in 2022. One argument that convinced the European Commission was the fact that with hybrid panels, we could exploit 89% of the irradiation that we receive. Photovoltaic technology is not able to fully exploit irradiation, which is why we need other technologies. For this reason, we need to make use of hybrid technology.

How has Abora's internationalization process evolved?

We were finalists in the Caixa Capital Risk Entrepreneur XXI awards, so we travelled to Silicon Valley in 2016. There, we realized we had the technology to break into the US market, but we had to consolidate our industry in our own market first. Hence, we decided to focus on the Spanish market before entering the international market. Later, thanks to Innoenergy, we got a stand at Intersolar in Munich 2018. This gave us higher visibility, and we were able to expand into Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, the UK, Portugal, and Greece, among others. However, we are focused on the French market, because in 2018, we developed a project with a French customer that wanted to invest in Abora. Abora is currently 42% French, with the remainder Spanish. That said, we also formed an agreement in the Netherlands with the manufacturer Solarus. It is now our main distributor both in the Netherlands and South Africa. In exchange, we introduced its production line to the Spanish market. Abora's core business is manufacturing hybrid technology. This sets us apart from other companies and is where we can share our knowledge, especially in terms of panel manufacturing.

What projects are you currently developing in Latin America?

We are about to close a project in Mexico, which is an excellent country to carry out our activity, due to the amount of solar irradiation it receives. Moreover, there is high demand in the tertiary sector, particularly in tourism and in terms of the factories that export their products to the US. We are also developing projects in French Guiana and Colombia, where we have been offered some projects, such as hospitals. We are now creating a network of partners across these countries. As well, we have signed projects in Peru related to the hotel and industry sectors. We have an exclusivity agreement in Chile, although we have not started developing projects there yet. In Chile, there is high demand for our services, especially in the building and mining sectors. We sold 50 panels in Ecuador last year to a partner that works in the single-family house sector, and we have recently received another request.

What are Abora's objectives for the year ahead?

Abora currently has everything it needs to boost business growth: the technology, funding, and so on. In addition, we have credibility in the market thanks to our loyal customers, such as the Iberostar hotel chain, where we installed our first panels in 2019. Our second installation was in 2020, which consisted of 300 panels in a hotel in Cádiz, and we currently have four projects in our portfolio. Last year, Abora had three people working full time, and we now have 14. Therefore, 2021 is a year of growth, and we expect to keep growing over the next few years.