FERNANDO ROMERO MARTINEZ

Spain 2021 | GREEN ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Fernando Romero Martinez, CEO of EDF Solar, about market share in Spain, the firm's most iconic projects, and the “sun tax.”

Created in 2007, EDF Solar specializes in photovoltaic self-consumption installations and holds 60% market share in Spain. How would you describe the company's evolution and its key milestones?

In 2007, there was a bubble in the Spanish renewable energy industry that is somewhat similar to what it is happening today, although currently the sector is more mature and professional. In the beginning, we focused on renewable generation projects, when the sector started to realize there had to be a different path to the one that had been laid down. The first moratorium took place, and we had to adapt to a new reality and switch our business model to the self-consumption business. Two years went by in which we did not conduct any projects, and in 2011 we developed our first electricity self-consumption project. To date, we have completed almost 2,000 self-consumption units that are currently into operation. It is important to highlight that we started in a sector that was unregulated, and one of our milestones has been regulating the sector. We were the first and only self-consumption Spanish company for many years. As a result, we managed to help draft regulations despite the industry opposition and lack of understanding from the government. In 2015, there was a decree that implemented the so-called “sun tax” that was extremely harmful for self-consumption. That decree was in effect until the current Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera Rodríguez approved a new regulation.

What are some of your most iconic projects over the years, and which sectors do you work the most with?

We greatly appreciate the first projects that we completed in our early years. Most of them were in Galicia, an autonomous community where we have installed 40MW in self-consumption, which is 95% of the total installed capacity in the self-consumption sector. We conducted a project for Avicola Lago that is special for us and which we always like to mention. All our projects are important to us, no matter their size. We are working in niche segments. We study where we want to develop ourselves and seek to achieve that through our strategy. There are sectors where we have contracts with 90% of the sector, for example. We have a strong focus on the food industry, where we participate in every sector of the production chain. We identified this sector as a priority for us, and during the pandemic it has been a resilient sector that has performed extremely well despite the situation. Our experience differentiates us. There are many large firms seeking to establish a partnership with us to become a provider. We have extensive experience, and that makes us unique. In our segment, which is focused on industry, it is extremely difficult to develop a company such as ours.

In 2019, you grew between 40 and 50% compared to 2018. 2020 saw the arrival of the pandemic, which has affected all sectors differently. How has COVID-19 affected the company, and what measures have you taken to mitigate the impact?

We expect to grow by 20% in 2020 compared to the year before; that is the goal we have set in our business plan. We will achieve it, which is great news. We have modified our client segment, however, and are doing just 200 projects, rather than 400. We are reducing the number of projects we are working on in order to focus on a specific type of client. The goal is to create a solvency that will allow us to grow in other segments. This means our focus is to consolidate ourselves with a specific type of client.

There is still a long way to go regarding regulation self-consumption sector. The repeal of the sun tax and the approval of the RD in 2014 have been positive changes, but what still remains to be done?

Minister Ribera was brave enough to change perceptions in the self-consumption sector. We are an active player in the sector, which is facing some challenges because of COVID-19. As for the new regulation, we are an active player in the existing associations that promote self-consumption. The industrial segment has been somewhat neglected by the public sector. We are still regulated under the decree of 2020. And in that change of energy mode, in which a distributed generation model should be a priority, Spain is at the forefront of this sector at a global level. That should be regulated. There should be a single regulation for the country as a whole and not vary from region to region, as is the case currently.

The Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan sets a target of 39GW of photovoltaic power to be installed by 2030. Is that achievable?

Spain is capable of the best, but is commonly known as the worst. That is why we are not able to self-administer ourselves as a country. There is an important level of energy generation, though there is no limit. There is a bottleneck and a situation of lack of control. There is currently a great deal of speculation. That goal of reaching 39GW before 2030 will be met even before 2030.

EDF Solar recently signed a commercial cooperation agreement with Gestión Servicios to strengthen its sales channel in Catalonia and Aragon. What other expansion plans are on the horizon?

We have a strong presence in Catalonia and we are in Aragon as well. Gestion Servicios is our partner and will help us strengthen our commercial challenge. There are regions where we have faced difficulties in enter such as Andalucía. We recently started operations in Extremadura and have also strengthened our operations in Castilla La Mancha. We are focusing on Andalucía and want to grow in that region. Another issue is that this sector is facing a certain lack of professionalization since we sometimes compete with companies that do not have a business plan. That lack of professionalization brings prices down, and these prices are so low that it will be challenging for many companies to operate in the short term. That lack of professionalization does not add value to the product, and that allows clients to seek the lowest prices. If this continues, the sector cannot generate high-skilled jobs and research and development.

What added value do you provide to your product, and what impact do you have on society?

We offer a service to generate energy; that is what we do. There are many platforms and items to add value to the product. It can be connected to the cloud, and we can include batteries or management services. We offer many services that can add value, and this is highly appreciated by the market. We have to add new technologies and come up with new methods to generate energy. Adding value to the product is essential.

What is your main goal for 2021?

This year, we have met our goals, and we want to meet our goals in self-consumption in 2021. We have more than 420MW in current development in generation. We are developing a branch for the commercialization electric power and want to integrate that business into our company. In that branch, we will generate our own renewable energy and will sell it to third parties. We want to provide tailor-made services to our 2,000 clients and also foster a feeling of community within the company. That is the biggest and most important challenge. We want every employee to feel they are part of a single unit, so we are implementing a program in an attempt to foster that feeling.