Headshot of Carlota Pi


February 13, 2024

Spain’s Holaluz: Waiting for the sun to shine

CEO Carlota Pi calls for more subsidies for the purchase of electric cars in Spain and tougher EU deadlines for rolling out cleantech

For the sunniest country in Europe, Spain has not always found it easy to make money out of one its most abundant natural resources.

Barcelona-based Holaluz, Spain’s first online energy retailer founded in 2010, knows this story better than most. The company has had to roll with a series of regulatory blows over its lifespan, and last year the company’s revenues dropped to €629.7m, down from €919.8m in 2022, at what many thought would be a boom time for Spanish solar energy companies.

CEO and cofounder Carlota Pi tells Sifted that the company, which let go 200 people in December, had to cut costs to secure its future, but is hopeful that the storm clouds will break for a sunnier year ahead.


“We face 2024 with huge optimism,” she says, sitting at an office with 360° views of the Mediterranean sea, laughing about how unforeseeable events like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have toughened her — and the company — up. 

“Over the last four years the only thing that hasn’t happened is an extraterrestrial invasion. Our foundations for growth are more solid than ever before.”

The rollercoaster years

Holaluz has historically made money in two ways: providing solar panel installation and maintenance for households and small businesses, and by distributing and selling solar and gas energy from the grid.

Demand for Holaluz’s solar panels grew quickly after a newly elected left-leaning government in Spain scrapped a controversial “sun tax” in October 2018. The levy on solar power had taxed people and small businesses who wanted to resell unused solar energy back into the grid. 

In 2019 Holaluz floated on Spain’s Alternative Equity Market (MAB) with a €160m valuation.

But Holaluz’s fates were to change again in 2022, when the same government started to introduce a series of measures to reduce household energy prices as the Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted the cost of Russian gas to skyrocket.

One of these was called the “Last Resort Rate”, which set a limit on how much most Spanish households would have to spend on their monthly energy bills.

While the government spent billions of Euros on subsidies, Pi says that companies like hers still had to pick up a lot of the cost of delivering these capped energy prices, which were roughly four to five times lower than the level that Holaluz could profitably sell at.

By the end of 2022, Holaluz had decided to scrap its gas distribution business, seeing the company’s EBITDA fall by a combined €10m over 2022 and 2023. Some international analysts say had it not been for their exit from the gas market, Holaluz could have become as big as Octopus Energy, a British energy startup which is trying to enter Spain after raising $800m to expand internationally. But Pi says that comparing Holaluz with Octopus is “unfair”, as they operate in dramatically different markets. 

In Britain, she argues, a larger number of energy distributors compete by offering large discounts, focussing on aggressive marketing strategies to increase customer numbers. The Spanish market, in contrast, is dominated by big energy incumbents with massive influence over energy prices, so startups must compete on technology and product, Pi argues.

Plummeting demand

The Spanish government’s subsidies also undermined the economic case for shifting to renewable energy, by making people think energy costs less than what it really does, Pi says. 


A combination of warm winter weather, high interest rates throughout 2023 (most Holaluz customers pay for their own solar panels in instalments which are sensitive to interest rates) and competition from oil and gas giants pushed down demand for solar panels further.

Holaluz had to downsize its staff by 27% to cope with the 53% decrease in orders of solar panels year-on-year, Pi says. European competitors such as Sweden’s Svea Solar and Barcelona-based SolarProfit simultaneously cut staff due to weak demand for solar.

Despite this drop off in demand, Holaluz’s solar panel business still managed to be profitable last year, partly thanks to selling bigger solar installations and more electric batteries, Pi says. The electric distribution business kept bringing in the majority of Holaluz’s revenue in 2023, helping the company counter the reduction in solar panel installations.

Pi is confident Holaluz’s numbers will recover because the company offers something unique in the Spanish market: it guarantees a monthly 70% return on the investment customers make when they buy solar panels — regardless of the weather or any technical faults. Other players promise a 50% return on average, but they do not guarantee it, she says.

The stock markets, however, are still not sharing her optimism. Holaluz’s shares currently trade at €3, down from €14 in 2021.

“Being in the stock market is unpredictable,” she says. “I feel it’s almost unfair. We care about share price in the long term, what we really care about is that the company is on the right track.”

A sunnier 2024?

Holaluz aims to boost its EBITDA to €19m this year, and install around 4k solar panels — similar to the levels reached in 2022, but with a slimmer team.

With no plans to expand internationally so far — although Pi says she sees great potential in the Balkan region — the company plans to launch a subscription-based leasing product for solar this year, and aims to further boost sales of batteries and EV chargers.

Spain’s national plan for energy and climate sets a goal to multiply solar installations by a factor of 10 by 2030, bolstering Holaluz’s hopes for a brighter future. The country lags behind most of Europe in sales of electric cars and distributed solar installations, and Pi believes with the right incentives it would represent a very profitable market.

She argues the Spanish customer needs to be nudged with a combination of subsidies for the purchase of electric cars and tougher European Commission deadlines for rolling out cleantech.

“There’s willingness and a good framework, but regulation should be more demanding and with clear deadlines,” she says.

But with a wave of politicians in Europe seeking to capitalise on voters’ dissatisfaction toward climate policies and what they perceive as a top down imposition of electric cars, how much should businesses such as Holaluz worry about populism?

Pi, still catching her breath after having to crisscross town to reach this interview, due to a protest of Spanish farmers angered at the EU’s climate policies, believes the shift is unavoidable. 

Just as people have learnt to comply with health and safety rules, they will eventually embrace net zero policies, she argues, adding that the right level of investment will be needed to make it happen.

“The energy transition needs CapEx [capital expenditure], investment, so that it costs a lot less to the consumer,” she says. “What costs money is to continue as we are. It’s not viable.”

Cristina Gallardo

Cristina Gallardo is a senior reporter at Sifted based in Madrid and Barcelona. She covers Europe's tech sovereignty, deeptech and Iberia. Follow her on X and LinkedIn