Presented by the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office
Abora S.L. is a company from the town of La Muela (Zaragoza, Spain) and was launched in 2017, when Alejandro del Amo, the company’s CEO and founder, together with other experts in the sector – Marta Cañada, Vicente Zárate, Fernando Pérez and Ricardo Lara – decided to showcase the technology that made it possible for solar collectors to have previously unachieved yields of 76 per cent. It did not end there, and in 2019 they succeeded in breaking the record for a yield achieved using solar technology with a yield of 87 per cent, as obtained in the most recent certification.
Hybrid solar panels, also known as PVT (photovoltaic thermal) panels, are not a new technology. The earliest developments were in the 1970s, but the technology was barely used owing to its low yield. It could only make use of 20 per cent of the available irradiance (15 per cent was converted into electricity and 5 per cent was used to heat the water circulating inside the panel), resulting in losses of 80 per cent, mainly through the front of the panel.
This is the major technical problem that Alejandro del Amo (CEO and founder of Abora) encountered when, in 2009, he began his doctoral thesis on solar trigeneration systems, that is, systems for generating electricity, cold and heat through solar irradiance. These systems combine hybrid panels (electricity and heat) with adsorption or absorption machines able to generate cold air using the heat of the panels. As these machines require a minimum temperature of 60°C to begin to function, and hybrid panels have a very poor yield in such working conditions (in the region of 5 per cent), many panels were required in order for cooling to be achieved with a minimum of efficiency.
Faced with this problem, Alejandro del Amo conducted research and arrived at a novel solution that he protected through patent ES 2 444 990 B1. This was a hybrid panel with a transparent and insulating cover on the front. This cover had to be highly transparent so that incident irradiance was able to reach the photovoltaic cells, and insulating in order to prevent the 80 per cent of heat lost around the (unprotected) front side from dissipating into the surroundings or at least reduce such losses as much as possible.
The first panel launched on the market with this technology obtained an overall yield of 65 per cent, more than three times higher than the yield achieved previously. This 65 per cent corresponded to 15 per cent photovoltaic production and 50 per cent heat. A 76 per cent overall yield was achieved in 2017and an 87 per cent overall yield in 2019, with successive improvements.
Abora is a small company with big potential and the key to this is its “Aboratory” in which all of its ideas (however outlandish they may be) are tested with the aim of improving the day-to-day yield of the panel. Abora is currently working on the latest version of the hybrid panel, which will cause a technological disruption leading to a significant technological advance, as stated in patent application P201930007 (publication number ES3888.1), which was registered last year but has not yet been made public. With this new development, Abora is in a prime position to continue at the forefront of technology in the coming years.
Despite this significant added value, having a better yield is not the aim but the means, as the final objective of Abora is to make the most profitable panel on the market. To this end, Abora has two main lines of work in its day-to-day operations: increasing yield and reducing costs.
At present, all solar equipment is installed for three reasons: to comply with statutory obligations, to receive subsidies or premiums for generating electricity or to satisfy an environmentally-minded conscience. Sadly, the third group is in the minority as in the first two scenarios solar technology is installed because of either obligation or economic incentives. This is the case because it takes a long time to make a return on investments in the technology, with periods of 8 to 10 years for the thermal solar technology installed to heat domestic hot water supplies or of 7 to 9 years for photovoltaic installations on the roofs of buildings. However, with Abora’s panels it is currently possible to make a return on investment in 4 to 6 years, making investment an attractive proposition. As a result, this technology is not only intended for the market consisting of new buildings required to install solar technology, but also the majority market of existing buildings that do not have to install solar technology but for which it may be an attractive investment.
The key to this is the transparent and insulating cover that was developed by Alejandro del Amo as part of his doctoral thesis and thanks to which the Abora team has been able to ensure that a renewable technology is also a profitable one.
Abora is clear about its business model: “at Abora, we manufacture hybrid solar panels”. This means that, as manufacturers, they neither install nor design the projects; everyone has their role in the supply chain and if Abora were to install the panels it would become the competitor of the current buyers of the panels, who would, in turn, no longer wish to buy them. For both installers and engineers, Abora offers highly specialized technical support for hybrid panels that facilitate access to this new technology, producing only hybrid panels because this is where it delivers differential value, as photovoltaic technology is a market with large volumes and small margins and thermal solar technology does not bring as much value as hybrid.
This philosophy is what has made Abora choose to locate its production line in Spain and to have only European suppliers, a decision that was made with the aim of improving technology rather than looking for countries where production is less expensive.
This has enabled it to become an industrial company that in the two years since its launch has challenged the market, improving its sales every year and managing to break even in this short period of time. Since early 2019, its internationalization process has been underway, with installations having already taken place in countries such as France, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, Colombia, Portugal and Greece. However, the internationalization process is a very long path and Abora hopes to traverse it while getting stronger with each step.
The hybrid panels market is focused on buildings where there is a demand for heating: either for hot water or heat to improve energy efficiency. This involves hotels, hospitals, retirement homes, sports centers, swimming pools, apartment blocks, laundromats, the dairy industry, canning plants and many other types of building in the industrial and residential service sector that have high levels of energy consumption.
Abora’s technology brings a significant added value to the client’s business model in these sectors. For example, in the case of a hotel with limited roof space, the installation of photovoltaic panels would only have a yield around 15 per cent of the incident irradiance on its roof, squandering its savings potential; however, if Abora’s hybrid panels were installed, 87 per cent of the incident irradiance could be stored, making energy savings five times greater than with photovoltaic panels, as a result of which the hotel could reduce its operating costs and become more competitive. This has led to clients, such as Iberostar and the Vitalia chain of retirement homes, placing their trust in this technology because it provides a monitoring system through which the building manager and the maintenance company can ensure that the installation is working correctly and verify that the results obtained align with those initially projected by Abora
Alongside the company’s growth and internationalization process, Abora registered its M3691882 trademark and the aH-Tech® trademark with the aim of being able to create other trademarks, while always guaranteeing the presence of a symbol to indicate the origin of the technology.
Abora chooses to protect its innovations and its business model through intellectual property in the form of trademarks and patents that are always intended to ensure that solar technology plays a fundamental part in the energy transition required to make our planet a more sustainable place.