How a small village near Oslo is making money selling solar power to the grid
When his friends found out he was going to buy a mostly solar-powered house in the ski area outside Oslo, Onar Aanestad’s friends laughed. Now the laughter is on them; from March or April, Aanestad does not pay any energy bills. Instead, it sells electricity back to the grid during the long Norwegian summer days.
I stand with Aanestad on a cloudy day near a small football field in the village of Furumogrenda. Until a few years ago it was a forest. “It’s a bit different here than most new developments,” says Aanestad. “The village community is built around all adults and children having their own space.”
Everyone has their house. Throughout the village are four playgrounds, ponds for children of all ages and a shallow beach for infants. For adults, there are 16 mini-housings. It could almost be a utopia, but when the municipality installed bike racks with free e-bikes, all but two were stolen.
Aanestad’s home, which he shares with his wife and three children, is as warm as toast. He shows us the aerothermal heat pump and the hot water tank; from the balcony, you can see the solar panels across the village. Each unit has between eight and 25 solar panels, supplied in 2018 by Norwegian company Otovo as part of a project initiated by developer Anders Opsahl Eiendom, owner and chairman of construction group Opsahl.
The European Solar Decade
Even in eco-friendly Norway, building an entire village using solar power is new. Yet Otovo CEO Andreas Thorsheim sees no reason why this shouldn’t become commonplace.
“Eventually the solar installation will be almost free – the price drops so fast,” he says. “All that’s left is the cost of the last mile.”
In the 1990s, solar was expensive. The 2000s saw factories expand to make cheaper panels. “Today,” says Thorsheim, “we have a panel that’s twice as powerful but half as expensive, made of silicon, aluminum and glass, with a lot more power for the dollar. Solar power l “Will outweigh Old Energy on price. It wins on price even in Norway, where no one thinks there’s sunshine, especially in winter.”
This is Europe’s solar decade. In the EU, solar energy production reached a new record this summer. Across the continent, sunny weather and an increase in solar installations contributed to record output, 28% higher than the previous summer, according to research by Ember, the UK environmental think tank.
“The push for solar in Europe is huge,” acknowledges Thorsheim. “In March alone, 44,000 homes in Poland received solar panels, equivalent to a full year of installations, usually in the UK. -powered.
According to Otovo’s calculations, by 2024 up to 2 million customers will switch to solar every year. This equates to a market size of over €20 billion.
Inspired by Tesla
In 2015, Thorsheim, a former business journalist and editor, was working for Norwegian media company Schibsted, helping to regenerate one of Norway’s leading newspapers, Bergens Tidende, among other things.
He might have remained a newspaper editor had it not been for a visit to Tesla’s factory in California as a guest of Peter Carlsson – who went on to found and run Swedish battery maker Northvolt.
“For me, it was like entering a cathedral,” recalls Thorsheim. “I just knew it was something different, and I wanted to do something with renewables on the same scale. So I started reading about solar panels and realized we could win on the price, even in Norway.And I figured out how to do the most of that was to sell it online.
Thorsheim sold the cabin in the woods and his Tesla. Then, mortgaging himself, he started raising funds and launched Otovo in 2016. Consumers have an online marketplace to see how much the solar installation will cost in about two minutes and arrange the installation.
Just six years later, Otovo is listed on the Euronext Growth stock exchange in Oslo and capitalized at just under €200 million. Its main shareholder is the largest solar investor in the Nordic countries, Axel Johnson.
Thanks to the Otovo platform, 8,000 solar installations per year are carried out, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 222,000 tonnes per year. By 2025, this will quadruple.
Growth has not been without challenges. French consumers complain more about the solar market than any other. Additionally, the industry worldwide has been plagued with hardware issues and varying standards of contractors performing installations.
“There are installers with incredible work ethic who are well trained and well known, but there are those who are shoddy,” says Thorsheim. “They don’t wear harnesses or puncture roofs. Faulty installation has consequences: things fall off roofs, or equipment doesn’t work or catches fire. People won’t accept that.”
Otovo’s answer is to have employees in the regions who select the installers. Out of 10,000 installers in Europe, Otovo only uses 700. Most of them have around 200 employees each. Thus, the number of entrepreneurs will increase, but the emphasis on selection will remain.
Otovo is now present in 10 European countries, is coming to the UK this fall and is growing rapidly.
“In 20 years, a third of the energy will be used where it is produced,” predicts Thorsheim. “The economics of solar are in favor of the industry. As the panels get bigger, they will all fit together and homes will need fewer panels. As a result, homes will have half their energy covered by local electricity. same goals – including China.”