Samara is building tech to switch Spain's households onto solar energy
Despite being one of the countries in Europe with the most hours of sunshine, Spain has extremely low levels of household solar installations. Madrid-based Samara, a startup founded in May this year -- which is launching a service in its home market today -- wants to change that, spotting what it believes is a major opportunity to accelerate the market's transition to renewable energy.
The startup has just closed €2 million in pre-seed funding to develop technology to simplify the process for households of installing solar energy systems, batteries and EV chargers, as well as developing digital tools for householders to manage their usage. The round is led by European and LatAm VC firm, Seaya and Pelion Green Future, an investment holding focused on clean energy and climate tech.
Samara's approach looks similar to Berlin-based Zolar, which offers an online configurator to help householders choose a photovoltaic system to buy or rent and other digital energy products, as well as connecting them with a network of local installers to carry out the work.
"We want to really simplify adoption of solar by customers," says Samara co-founder, Iván Cabezuela. "That means simplifying the experience using software and technology to create easier customer proposals, easier projects -- like customers can see where the panels will fit at their home with 3D design, and see what their savings would be, and things like that."
This will include building an installer management app for the third-party installers Samara intends its platform to work with.
Samara's other co-founder, Manel Pujol, points to how much more mature Germany's solar household market is compared to Spain -- but he says they're hopeful their home market can catch up and capitalize on all the plentiful Spanish sunshine.
"In Spain there is a massive gap between the penetration you would expect from a country like Spain and some other countries in Europe," he tells TechCrunch, citing figures from last year when there were only around 70,000 solar installations completed in the country vs. some 1.5 million in Germany. (For a little more context, Spain has around 6 million households in total.)
"It actually means that 99.6% of the market is still untapped," adds Cabezuela.
Samara's co-founders say the reason for Spain lagging on household solar installation boils down to a lack of a supportive legal framework -- with, until 2020, no clear regulation allowing householders to sell excess energy produced by solar panels back to the grid, for example. Additionally, distribution and transportation taxes were actually applied to solar energy generated by households -- creating a disincentive to adopt clean energy by further undermining unit economics.
Regulatory barriers essentially meant Spain's domestic solar market was capped until very recently. And that historical underdevelopment means the market has a relative lack of solar installation companies focused on the residential sector -- with only around 1,000 such small businesses at this point.
However Samara's co-founders argue that's another key piece of the opportunity they have in front of them now.
"The way the actual process [of delivering residential solar] is done has a lot of room for improvement," argues Pujol. "From how you simulate the production at the home, the software that you use, how you do these estimates, how you present that information to the customer and how you capture them essentially with that information. But it also has to do, longer term, with what is the technology you build to manage this energy ecosystem in the home of the customer?
"Because we're moving from a world where energy was delivered to you through a cable and there was no management at all to a world where you're suddenly going to have production, you're going to have storage, you're going to have a car that you will need to charge. You will most likely electrify your heating -- which is, in many cases two-thirds of the energy consumption of your place. So there's a big electrification component happening at the residential level and there's no clear way to manage that properly. So we want to also -- as we advance -- build the tech to do that."
That said, if the startup is to scale it will need the residential installer sector to grow with it -- as well as get comfortable adopting the digital tools they're building. Which means that expanding the network and skills of installers is a core piece of Samara's mission.
"We see a huge opportunity of creating high-quality green-energy jobs," says Cabezuela. "Spain is going to see over 350,000 new green-energy jobs being created by 2030 so we see a great opportunity for hiring, training and developing -- a lot of people are creating that opportunity so when you look at Spain we think it's a market that can actually become the reference player when it comes to solar and [reskilling]. It's already quite advanced in certain aspects."
Wider regional moves are also driving the creation of green jobs. The EU's 'Green Deal' investment strategy, for example -- which aims to make the bloc 'climate neutral' by 2050 via a plan to attract a trillion euros worth of public and private investment over the next decade to accelerate Europe's green transition -- includes a focus on training and upskilling to future-proof jobs, which means that Member States like Spain are in line for sustained EU support to transform their industries and economies through the development of green jobs.
Another barrier is the pure cost for householders of installing solar -- although with more supportive regulation the unit economics have at least improved. Per Samara, the cost of installing (just) a solar system may be in the region of €7,000 -- but they say typical savings are 50%-70% of the electricity bill.
Installing a battery -- which allows storage of energy generated by the householder's solar system (i.e., allowing them to consume more of their own freely generated clean energy, so potentially save more on their energy costs) -- is around €4,000. While an EV charger can be included as part of the service offered by Samara for about €1,500.
Another characteristic of the Spanish market that could present a barrier to scaling residential solar is the fact that much housing consists of flats in apartment blocks -- where householders may have no direct access to the roof. Here, though, the startup reckons this offers an additional opportunity for the smart digital management software it's building.
"That's the third piece of regulation which has happened in the last two years which has been really encouraging and exciting to us. So basically energy communities and energy storing regulation are now regulated in Spain," explains Cabezuela. "Spain has quite a modern regulation when it comes to energy communities so it means you can install solar panels in any roof in any building and supply any energy user that is 500 meters away from that installation -- so that means that in community buildings you can do common installations, which is using a common roof and distribute that energy to the neighbours. And even people who live in buildings nearby."
"We think it's also a really exciting opportunity to bring technology to how people share their energy," he adds.
Samara's co-founders started their careers working in investment banking but also bring plenty of experience scaling and operating high-growth tech companies -- with Cabezuela being ex-Amazon, ex-Uber Eats and also the former country manager of clean energy startup, Bulb in Spain, while Pujol is a former country manager of Uber Eats and was also a general manager for French health insurance startup, Alan.
While Uber-branded quick commerce may seem a far cry from helping drive a clean energy transition, Pujol points to one common thread.
"They do have one point in common which is very important for us and was a big part of the [decision to co-found Samara] -- which is how you build a supply in a supply-constrained market? Both Iván and myself during the Uber Eats time and also for myself when I was at Uber we saw what it takes to build supply and use technology to do that and to make it very efficient. And we saw an opportunity here as well to do that."