This is the Spanish startup that wants to unite solar energy and blockchain technology

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When Wouter Draijer arrived in Spain to do a master’s degree, this Dutch-born engineer was surprised by the few roofs he saw with solar panels. Above all, he explains, “taking into account that Spain is the country with the most hours of sun exposure in Europe.”

Draijer arrived in Barcelona in the darkest moments of self-consumption: those in which there was still talk of tolls in the sun but, above all, in which the extensive bureaucracy meant that only a few idealists considered the option of putting solar panels on their roof with the motivation, albeit long-term, of obtaining profitable electricity with them.

“You can call it a coincidence, but while I was thinking about these problems and the differentiation of Spain, the regulation changed,” he recalls. Xataka the now CEO of SolarMinda startup that has entered the market for the installation of solar panels in Spain and has attracted the attention of North American accelerators.


When Wouter speaks of changes, he refers to those who arrived with the Royal Decree 244/2019which opened its hand to self-consumption, reduced procedures, and above all expanded its vision for the creation of energy communities, a figure that could be used by neighborhood communities or industrial estates to share facilities.

In that change, Wouter and his partner, the Canadian Victor Gardrinier, a programmer, saw enough incentive to consider the idea of ​​a company that would enter this market. SolarMente would be founded in May 2020, first gathering savings “and living for many months with just 700 euros a month,” he recalls. Now, SolarMente has just received a financing round of 1.8 million euros after passing through Y Combinator, the well-known accelerator that once promoted businesses such as Airbnb, Stripe or Coinbase.

The proposal: not worry those who want to install plates and add more technology

Wouter Solarly

When we ask Wouter about what differentiates SolarMente from other installers, he tells us that it is to make it easy for those who intend to take the step. They deal with advice, bureaucratic procedures, installation, commissioning, maintenance, and add to that an extra layer of software that allows their customers to better control their consumption.

For their immediate future, perhaps the most striking idea is that they want, with a blockchain-based system, it can be done that the always problematic surpluses -the excess energy generated by the panels, but that is not consumed, and cannot be stored if there are no batteries- can be transferred between consumers that have an interconnection between them . This leaves isolated residences out, but it could be applied, they explain, in neighborhood communities, where a neighbor could transfer to another who needs it, their surpluses that they do not consume and see that discounted on their bill.

When they started, “Solar energy scared everyone who lived in Spain. We were educating people rather than selling our product. The start-up was ten times slower than I expected,” says the Dutchman. , which explains that his proposal also has received more attention thanks to word of mouth after the rise in the price of electricity in recent months and the instabilities generated by the conflict in Ukraine.

The future of energy is a solar and distributed model and it has many enemies

Getting an idea of ​​the increase in interest in self-consumption in homes is not easy if we stick to the data, but it is easy trying to follow some sensations. Until the regulatory change, segregated data was not offered between industrial and agricultural self-consumption facilities (the most numerous) and residential ones. But, in 2021, a record year for photovoltaic installation in all its formats in Spain, the Spanish Photovoltaic Union (UNEF) estimated that a total of 1,203 megawatts of new power for self-consumption were installed.

This data meant a growth of 101.8% compared to 2020. And, in addition, it also pointed out that residential self-consumption had ceased to be a rarity, representing 32% of the total new photovoltaic self-consumed. If we turn to another interest indicator, such as the level of searches and interest in Google, we can also see how the term “self-consumption” has tended to rise.

Both Draijer and Gardrinier met at an event in Barcelona. The second came from investigating how the blockchain could help decentralize energy generation thanks to a system similar to the peer to peer, after having begun to scratch what this technology could allow passing through several companies in Canada and the United States. Now, they are quite clear about what they want to achieve by uniting blockchain and solar panels. Although it does not seem like a minor goal:

In 2030, each SolarMente client should be able to produce, store and sell their own green energy without having to get up from the sofa, and save thousands of euros by being able to operate in a way that is not possible now with the surpluses generated. By then, hopefully using traditional electricity will seem as archaic as today’s mp3 players.

Wouter Draijer, CEO of SolarMind

The idea, or so they offer it, is that their clients “can sell your surplus energy from the couch.” “Solar users often don’t know how to properly use their generated power. And that’s because it’s still really complicated. But as your installers, we have access to your power generation data and can help you optimize your savings. Over time, our blockchain-enabled system could come into play to help solar power users sell their surplus energy to their local community without going through a power company’s pricing system,” Gardrinier explains.

It is precisely that layer of extra software that they also mark as a differentiation in their favor. “The technology of solar panels has improved a lot in recent years, the price has also fallen, but the software to control them has not,” they comment. They see it as differential, that when asked if they consider themselves an energy company or a technology company, they opt for the second option. “We use the technology to install solar energy in any house anywhere in Spain (and in the future, all over the world),” says Draijer.

From starting at a friend’s house to Y Combinator

In November, SolarMente received an investment of €1.8 million through a round seeds powered by Y Combinator**, one of the reference accelerators in the North American startup ecosystem that has invested in companies such as Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox or Coinbase.

But until you get here there is a story that begins on the roof of a friend’s house.

“The mother of a German classmate found out that I was writing my thesis on solar energy, and she happened to be our first client. She loved our service and recommended us to all the neighbors in a housing estate, which resulted in 7 installations later”, recalls the CEO, who started with his partner renting a van to proceed with the first installations. Draijer now remembers that time as one in which they survived “with 700 euros a month and reinvested everything in the company”.

How to install solar self-consumption at home: sizing, cost and profitability

Their proposal has grown from there, and, according to what they say, it differentiates itself by offering from the initial contact to a possible complete self-consumption kit. All in all, an average installation can range from 4,500 euros to 11,000, depending on whether it has a battery and its capacity. “We take care of the complete electrification of the home, and we use solar energy as input. We let the client generate their own energy, store it and use it, offering Batteries, EV-Chargers, AC’s, and heating”, comments the Dutchman.

solarly

The founders of SolarMente in its beginnings.

Despite this final proposal, today continue to recommend to customers who want to completely disconnect from the network have a backup generator with fossil fuel. Your goal is to reach 50,000 households in Spain in the next five years. The plan is ambitious. By the end of 2021, they had completed 85 installations and were working on their first industrial installation. Enough though to get Y Combinator’s attention.

Asked how they got to the accelerator, Wouter says he believes it was “a mix of product, team, market opportunity and momentum. We actually didn’t get it the first time. We made some big product improvements, we closed some good deals, we got set ourselves apart with our plans for the future and YC accepted us pretty quickly.”

Blockchain for when regulation is ready

Victor Solarmente

To present themselves to YC with a value proposition, they mirrored in Spain and Europe Sunrun, a North American company listed on the stock market that also entered the retail market at the time thanks to offering a certain simplicity and subscription models, something that SolarMente also has on its roadmap.

Its uptake so far has also been based on marketing. SolarMind offers a referral bonus future customers and an online consumption savings calculator. “We believe that simplicity is the key to success in this case. After evaluating thousands of offers, we know that we can simplify each installation, or at least the initial offer. We start with a basic offer, based on the energy needs of a client. If the customer likes the savings and the price, we can go into details,” they explain.

In a medium-term journey, your proposal for someone who wants to disconnect from the network goes through several phases. “First we install the panels, we see how the client adapts to solar energy, we add batteries, we assess their behavior, and we install the system that allows them to disconnect from the network,” they detail.

For now, the regulation in Spain, although it has advanced, has not just been adapted above all in bureaucracy to what your model just proposed. “The main bottleneck remains the time it takes to get permission from local councils to install. Then even the feed-in tariffs for excess power are surprisingly low. However, I am heartened by the fact that the EU announced a €1.32 billion grant to promote sustainability,” says Wouter.

Regarding their proposal linked to the blockchain, they hope to launch a pilot test this year about which they do not offer much information when asked by this means. “We are quite clear about what we want to do and how to do it,” says Gardrinier, technology manager. Your horizon has a clear date. They wish and hope that in 2030 the usual electricity consumption will be as archaic “as an mp3 player”. And they want to be part of that change.

When Wouter Draijer arrived in Spain to do a master’s degree, this Dutch-born engineer was surprised by the few roofs…

When Wouter Draijer arrived in Spain to do a master’s degree, this Dutch-born engineer was surprised by the few roofs…

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