Friday, January 15, 2010

Barcelona: Leader in solar energy

Sustainability regulations in Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona, require solar panels to be fitted to all large buildings. The objective is for the buildings to heat 60% of their own hot water. Barcelona is showing the way for the popularisation of renewable energy, and 20 Spanish towns and cities have already followed suit. The EU has already awarded Barcelona a prize for its ambitious initiatives.

Since 2000, all new buildings and those undergoing major renovation have had to have solar energy sources installed to provide most of their hot water. What is truly groundbreaking in this respect is the fact that Barcelona has ventured to regulate rather than simply encouraging people to make use of solar energy.

On Barcelona's Forum Esplanade promenade stands a large, sculptural solar array, which with a surface area of 10,500 m² is Europe's largest. It produces energy for the public sector, helping to reduce the city's carbon emissions by 440 tonnes. The array faces south and is angled at 35° to maximise its efficiency. The solar panels in the array use monocrystals, tiny slices of silicon which transform sunlight into electricity.

Solar arrays on the City Hall, and especially those on Forum Esplanade, have made Barcelona visible as a city that focuses on solar energy as part of the cityscape. Most of the arrays are used to heat water and are therefore installed on large buildings that consume considerable amounts of hot water, such as blocks of flats and institutions with large kitchens, washing and bathing facilities.

Solar panels as Eco Christmas Trees, by jp. Ubiqua, 3 dec, 2008, Flick, Creative Commons

Solar panels as Eco Christmas Trees, by jp. Ubiqua, 3 dec, 2008, Flick, Creative Commons

2002 saw the establishment the Barcelona Local Energy Agency, the purpose of which is to promote a sustainable attitude to the environment and urban energy consumption in particular. The main task of the Local Energy Agency is to keep the municipality, its citizens and industries informed about renewable energy, as well as to participate in the development of new sustainable energy production installations. The Agency's main initiatives have been in the field of solar energy.

The spread of solar energy is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough in isolation. The legal requirement to use solar energy is but one of Barcelona's strategies for reducing energy consumption and increasing the production of sustainable energy. In addition to this, the city legislators are subsidising the development of new technologies, tools for the measurement and control of energy consumption, as well as information campaigns.