Forum Solarpraxis: More foreign investment and lobbying needed

The second day of the Forum Solarpraxis kicked off with talks from some European market stalwarts from, among others, Spain, Italy, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Franco Valentini of Elettronica Santerno SpA summed up a motif of the day’s discussions by saying that further development of the Italian photovoltaic industry "is not a technical, but a political issue."

"We worked too hard at realising photovoltaic plants this year," he said, getting laughs from the audience when he explained how the Italian government inadvertently created a boom after deciding that the extremely favourable 2.3 gigawatt peak (GWp) tariff applied to plants whether they are connected to the grid or not.

According to his presentation, Italy is set to reach its upper limit of €6 billion investment by the end of 2011, not 2016 as predicted, but he was careful to explain the favourable conditions that photovoltaics presents during the forthcoming period of renegotiation. "We won’t have seven GW again in 2012, we hope to have three GW, but it’s a political decision," he added.

David Peréz of eclareon continued the trend of talking politics, explaining that much of the reason for the fluctuating regulations influencing the Spanish photovoltaic industry comes from lobbyists, primarily from the natural gas industry. Due to the government setting annual production limits on Spanish plants for the 2011-2013 period, "many investors lost trust in Spain, so many people have come up to me during the conference and asked me what’s going on in my country.

"They told me: ‘Something really good would have to happen for me to go back there’". However, he was confident about both the potential for the Spanish BAPV/BIPV market and ability of the southern Spanish regions to reach grid parity, emphasizing that due to an LCOE of 16 euro cents per kilowatt hour this is a very real possibility "if this situation is properly managed."

The discussion then moved to Turkey, where Professor Sener Otik of Arikanli Holding A.S and the Turkish photovoltaic association, GENSED, cast some very optimistic predicitions about the future of solar in the country.

He outlined how an impending Turkish energy crisis around 2016-2017, set to be caused by Turkey’s rocketing economic growth and thus increasing need for power, has created two possible outcomes. The first is a familiar solution and a fear that was posited throughout the talks and questions on Friday – that the government would attempt to plug the ever-expanding energy gap with massive investment in the nuclear industry, in this case to the tune of around 12 GW.

The second scenario, however, could make Turkey the second largest consumer of photovoltaics after California, he explained confidently. If the government chooses to pursue renewable energy solutions, that combined with the current situation whereby installations of under 500 megawatts (MW) not requiring a licence, a target of 30 percent renewable energy sources before 2023 and a licence for a 600 MW power plant granted for 2013, "500 GW is feasible," he said, to a stunned, if not incredulous, reception.

Frank Haugwitz of the Deutsche China Consult went on to pick up the theme of BAPV/BIPV potential, as well as emphasizing at length that China is by no means "a closed shop," to foreign investment. However, he added that timing to enter the market in order to profit from the fact that "German quality is a plus," is "crucial", and that there is enormous potential for foreign investment in a burgeoning market both at a regional and provincial level.

Another conference motif of the threat of nuclear also continued into the second session, naturally during a talk by Takao Ikeda of the Japanese Institute of Energy Economics. Mr Ikeda seemed unapologetic in his explanation of the continued Japanese love for nuclear energy, even post-Fukushima, stating that Japan intends to find 70 percent of its energy from non-Carbon energy sources by 2030, but that only 20 percent of this would be from renewables – news which left many of the audience somewhat shocked. His presentation gave much weight to the Japanese negotiations about their changing energy sources, designed to continue well into 2012 – a stance which seem to leave many of those watching displeased.

K.P Philip of India kept the audience chuckling with his explanation of how India is ripe for foreign investment in its ambitious regional and national projects in order to permit it to "join the gigawatt club," as the world tour continued on to countries which are attempting to really kick-start their full photovoltaic potential.

A little later, an introduction to Saudi Arabian photovoltaics emphasized the country’s potential for water purification technology in a land that has no natural water resources, while Nikolai Dobrott of the Apricum Cleantech Advisory went to great lengths to demonstrate how Brazil’s superior solar radiation at its lowest level (1700 kW/h m2) trumps Germanys at its highest (1200 kW/h m2). "It’s about a solid legislative framework and financing," he said of the future of Brazilian photovoltaics.

"You’ve travelled all over the world today," said Thai representative, Wandee Khunchornyakong, who rounded off an intense day of international presentations. But the journey outlined several clear themes for the attendees, notably that the industry will have to step up the fight against other lobbying interests, above all nuclear energy, and that increased foreign investment in developing markets outside Europe with an exporting of European quality standards is quite possibly the future.