Not enough for the industry to know what’s good!04. April 2012 By: Karl-Heinz Remmers
A call to arms from publisher Karl-Heinz Remmers. He makes the case as to why the photovoltaic industry in Germany must rally together to take action and speak with a unified voice.
In recent weeks the mass media in Germany followed the amendment to the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) with a wave of stories and reports about the demise of the German solar industry. Once again it was just simply disgusting to see how certain editors feasted on the misfortune of others, and how quite obviously many of them in fact hate our country.
There is hardly any other way to explain the gloating and delight with which the crash of parts of a future-oriented industry could be celebrated in such an uninhibited manner. And how poorly research is performed can also be seen in the fact that the majority of the 110,000 jobs in the sphere of solar energy are not located at the companies solarhybrid, Solar Millennium or even Solon or other manufacturing enterprises currently experiencing difficulties, as contended by the Federal Ministry for the Environment. Furthermore, none of them took the trouble to take a look at production sites that indeed are not on the verge of collapse – and in the overall output chain there are in fact quite a number of them.
Despite huge protest the amendment has now been passed in the German Lower House of Parliament. Whether or not this test of strength will have consequences at least in the Upper House of Parliament remains to be seen. And if there are no successful complaints filed against the law, then the “guillotine amendment” should pass through as a whole. The calculated political maneuver on the part of ministers Röttgen and Rösler panned out: Extremely short periods and a power to issue statutory ordinances written into the wording of the law, incitement of complete chaos via press conferences and insistence on all of the quintessential points of the bill at the end of the negotiations.
Thus remuneration will be reduced even faster than planned. A completely botched second market instrument will be introduced and the cheapest solar electricity plants on properties with inherited waste limited to ten megawatts. And the whole thing is embellished with abolishment of the former remuneration classes, the bonus for private power consumption and any amount of bungling when it comes to the details.
What will now happen is obvious. In contrast to previous EEG amendments, numerous staff in the trades and commercial enterprises have already been dismissed as of April 1, 2012. In addition, the latitude for further price reductions has been largely exhausted in global terms. Further costs, and thus price reductions, must now be achieved through further technological progress and larger markets –precisely in an unprecedented situation with an extremely keen international struggle for the leading position on just this market.
While policymakers and the media have obviously given up the fight in Germany, China and other Asian countries are revving up – or stepping on the gas again in the case of Japan. No-where else is the will to dominate this technology greater than in China, and who would forbid the Chinese from doing what used to make our country so strong? Namely, to believe in something new, and to develop it over a long period with great strength and application. But, as is well known, this has no longer been the case in Germany for decades – because of a lack of the necessary will in the end. There was always the good excuse for failure in the chip, computer, software, TFT screen, fax and many other technologies: namely, the free market. Well these products developed wonderfully thanks to the Asians, and the German solar enemies will also not be able to stop the photovoltaic industry; but with completely different domestic industry and development structures.
Currently there is no such thing as economic policy in Germany – not for a single product and not for a company. Therefore we will probably have to endure further sneering comments from the realm of politics and the media when other companies have to declare bankruptcy. But we will also see how the technological essence will survive them all and then develop in Asia. Is this inevitable? I do not believe so, because one can vote to throw out a government; and photovoltaic technology is so broadly entrenched in Germany that even after the crash of a section of the producing companies new ideas can completely turn the game around at any time.
After all, everyone agrees that in the year 2020, both solar modules and inverters as well as the other accessories will look completely different than they do today. Moreover, low wages or other advantages such as cheap land or energy will no longer provide advantages already in the short term. And the reason is that what will matter most will be technology, as in the case of TFT screens, particularly a stable environment for new manufacturing required on the scale of billions. And this can be developed wherever there is a clear will to achieve. But only if such will is given, and we as an industry clearly and unequivocally explain to our fellow citizens why it is that what we do is important and good for all of us. Not a receptacle for overblown subsidies or ripping off development funds.
Among us we know what we have achieved. Yesterday photovoltaic technology was expensive, today it is already very cheap in countries with high solar radiation, inexpensive in Germany, and in the year 2020 probably also the cheapest means of generating electricity in Germany among newly built power stations. And the fact that it is also environmentally friendly, and creates freedom and a substantial output of value in a decentralized manner is something that we also get free of charge. This is also coupled with a capacity to generate electricity on a scale of more than 25 gigawatt peak that, starting as of 2030, will provide electricity for less than a cent (based on current purchasing power) and then stand at the ready as the absolute price-cutter.
But it is not enough to know this amongst ourselves! We have to acknowledge the fact that in the past we did a lousy job of communicating to the public. And we must all ask ourselves why we allowed photovoltaic technology to be maligned step by step both in politics and the media, already during the term of the CDU/SPD coalition government and in an even more intensified manner within the hostile climate of the CDU/FDP government. Yes, we allowed it to happen and failed to adapt our own (media) information and our own behavior to this rapid development. Also we also failed to modify federation and other structures with the required speed in order to communicate the great importance of our activities.
The wheel that we are turning has – as we have always intended – become very large. Now it is certainly very easy to just complain about policymakers, the media or the German Solar Industry Association. And many gladly do so internally – but only behind closed doors. Naturally every one of us has the best ideas on how things should continue, the best connections to politicians, etc. Nothing less is bleated into every camera; no matter what the negative consequences may be. Thus the cacophony in the solar industry in recent years and, above all, in recent weeks was louder than ever before.
However, this neither makes sense, nor is it honest or helpful because it changes nothing and the result, as we have just witnessed, is “guillotine” amendments. But things cannot continue in this vein because we now must look at precisely where we stand and what we can do better. And after the scrutiny actions will have to follow, a lot of action and a lot of work in order to once again make photovoltaic technology what it is throughout all of society: A benevolent future technology that has achieved a great deal already at this point in time. And in order to begin with just these deeds, I support the call on the part of the Parabel company for an extraordinary meeting of the members of the German Solar Industry Association.
In order to be able to begin with the next chapter of photovoltaic technology in Germany today we need unvarnished stocktaking just as much as the self-discipline to finally recognize the new realities. In addition, we must steer our view away from incessant defense of the castle that is the Renewable Energy Act, and instead toward the coming steps in development. And this too has to be well-communicated. This will be hard work, and sitting on the couch and complaining about Rösler and Röttgen is a thing of the past.
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