Taking the temperature at the Forum Solarpraxis: day one

"The future of solar is not Germany," said Gerard Reid of Jefferies Group Inc., during an early session entitled "Is the German solar industry still competitive?"; this was a sentence which seemed to sum up the general mood of the conference as it began. Much discussion seemed to focus on how to grow the way that PV has taken root within the socio-political structure of Germany to other countries both in Europe and beyond; the Italian market was the European market that was on everyone’s lips, with the magical ten gigawatt (GW) number being cited more than once. Although the vast majority of attendees were German or German-speaking (you could count the number of people wearing translation headsets on one hand), both the selected topics as well as the majority of attendees seemed at odds with many overriding buzzwords and themes of the first day, being entirely focused on the internal German market.

In spite, or perhaps because of, being perhaps the only panellist speaking in English, Reid seemed to do well at galvanising the views of the audience even early on; many of his more dramatic statements garnered thunderous applause. He explained that his view of the industry was based around technology, that "it’s not about selling modules any more, it’s about 24/7 clean power."

Addressing the issue of the threat of Chinese dominance of the industry that seemed ever-present, he outlined what he saw as the ways for the German industry to overcome "their grave mistakes" that had occurred so far.

"The German government financed companies, like Centrotherm in particular, who then sell their technology to China," he explained "but companies need to keep hold of their intellectual property." In order to surpass the potential danger of such an action, Germany needed to reposition itself as the centre of innovative, high quality products. "The glass is still half full, because competition is still high," he explained, touching on another internationally prescient issue for the industry. The growing presence of China (an earlier speaker, Karl-Heinz Remmers of Solarpraxis, was very careful to state that "Asia is not just China," although this statement was not picked up at other times) was not always considered a negative however, with Reid’s careful annunciation that “we have China to thank for cheaper module prices, if it wasn’t for them we’d still have three euro per Watt,” generating further rapturous applause.

The opinion was also voiced that the industry was perhaps too complacent regarding the German public’s mood post-Fukushima. At a discussion entitled "Solar energy in the headlines," designed to discuss the public image of solar within Germany, Professor Dr Jo Groebel of the Deutsches Digital Institut spelled it out, in no uncertain terms, that "this branch of the industry has simply not profited from public opinion." The panel, formed of Prof. Dr Groebel and four of Germany’s leading journalists, who report on the solar industry, also took a more sceptical view of the industry’s hopes for itself in the coming year, quick to temper ideas of a complete photovoltaic takeover with talk of it continuing to "be one part of a diverse energy mix."

2012 predictions for Germany could reach a high of seven GW, according to Dirk Morbitzer of Renewable Analytics. Yet with much talk of the longer-term future of the industry, coming from heightened European networking alongside exporting power and products to Africa, India and China, the slightly more international topics set for the second day of the conference should hopefully yield more specific information on how the industry can grow itself beyond German borders.