Barcelona solar energy

Posted on March, 01 2012

Trailblazer for mandatory solar water heaters 

Trailblazer for mandatory solar water heaters

Barcelona was the first European city to require solar water heaters be installed in all new buildings and renovations. Over 70 Spanish municipalities have since followed Barcelona's example. And in 2006 Spain was the first nation to enact building codes that included solar water heaters. This ordinance helped Barcelona reduce the carbon intensity of its electricity by about 30%.

Keywords: solar water heaters, regulation, sun city, policy, building codes

Barcelona portrays itself as a sun city, and that’s especially true when looking at the rooftops – in 2000 the city began requiring that 60% of hot water heating in all new and renovated big buildings be derived from solar panels (see also Rizhao). The ordinance applies to both public and private buildings, and in 2006 was extended to smaller buildings. In addition, Barcelona in 2002 adopted an energy plan that among other things led to installations of solar PV panels on public buildings.

Carbon intensity reduced
As a result of these policies, the number of solar water heaters has multiplied forty-fold, to a figure of 63,000 sq m in 2008, an equivalent of 5.75 MW. If solar PV panels are added in, Barcelona’s solar installations in 2008 were equivalent to a 7.4 MW power plant. With the help of these investments, energy efficiency measures and other renewable energy sources, Barcelona has reduced its carbon intensity in electricity by about 30% since 2000.

Barcelona has solar panels on bus stops and on top of the City Hall (see also Freiburg and San José). In 2004 the city built Europe's largest urban solar array (10,500 sq m), at the Forum Esplanade as a monument to its solar orientation. In 2007 the city won the EU ManagEnergy Local Energy Action Award.

Education and maintenance have been key to the success. The Barcelona Energy Agency, established to administer the project, believes that solar panels ought to be managed like elevators – inspected on a regular basis. An information centre, run by the agency, has provided assistance in installation and maintenance.

Success spreads
Barcelona's successful model has been replicated by over 70 Spanish municipalities introducing similar regulations. In 2006 the Spanish government was the first in the world to enact a national building code requiring the installation of solar panels for both electricity and hot water in new construction and renovation for larger buildings. Many other countries have followed suit with similar programs: Italy, Portugal, India and Brazil, for example.

The regulation helped Spain move closer to Germany, Austria and Greece, Europe's leaders for solar water heating. This is a sector that has expanded hugely in the 2000s. In 2010, total world capacity reached 185 GW, of which China accounted for 64% and the EU for 14%. When it comes to solar PVs, however, Spain is one of the world's leading nations, thanks to its generous and early feed-in tariff (see also Gainesville). By 2010, Spain had an installed capacity of 3.8 GW, amounting to 10% of the world's total capacity, second only to Germany, which boasts a 44% share.

New York City Global Partners, Innovation Exchange, ”Best Practice: Promoting Solar Energy”, 2011,

Sustainable Cities, "Barcelona: Leader in solar energy", 2010,

City of Barcelona, European Green Capital Application 2012-2013, 2010,

Barcelona Energy Agency,

Barcelona Energy Agency, "Sustainable Energy Solutions in Barcelona", 2007,

REN21 Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, 2011, Renewables 2011 Global Status Report, Paris: REN21 Secretariat,

Eric Martinot et al., 2009, Global Status Report on Local Renewable Energy Policies, Working Draft, 12 June 2009, A Collaborative Report by: REN21 Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, Institute forSustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability,

Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision,

Text by: Martin Jacobson

Solar panel in La Verneda, Barcelona
© Chris Wood
Map Barcelona 2