Interview: "The future of PV has just begun"

During your opening speech of the Financial Summit of APVIA recently in Singapore you talked in a very positive way about the future for photovoltaics. Why are you so optimistic?
The future for photovoltaics is very bright. If you look how the solar industry started and how it developed within the last 5-7 years and how photovoltaics became already an import part of our energy mix, it is amazing. Through the steep cost cuts, PV is almost competitive and we are on the verge of grid parity in many parts of the world. In many countries like China or the Southeast Asian region, we see a growing energy demand and nobody can deny that solar energy will play a crucial role to meet this. Wehave brought down the cost of photovoltaics from US$5 to $1.20 per Watt within a few years, this is a dramatic change.
How do you view the Chinese domestic market?
Last year we saw already over 2 GW of new installations, this year we expect already over 5 GW. Until 2020 I see around 100 GW installed total PV capacity in China is possible; one hundred times as much as today. We increased our Chinese sales from much less than 100 MW last year to 300 MW this year.
What about conventional energy like coal?
Already nowadays 60% of the Chinese railway system carries coal transports. If this dependency on coal won`t change in the future, the whole system will be non sustainable, besides the environmental aspects. Also in other countries we see this discussion and a change towards a more sustainable energy future.
But in many countries like Germany and the U.S. there is now a pretty controversial debate about the costs and efficiency of PV, for example about its intermittency or the problems of grid integration. What’s your take on this?
I just came back from Germany and had visited Bad Staffelstein, a small town. There they have already a share of solar electricity of over 30 percent at the local electricity mix. And they don`t have technical problems. In China we would expect a share of solar electricity of about 10% at the electricity mix in next couple of decades, so this should also be possible without technical problems.
In neighboring countries like India or the Philippines we see massive power shortcuts and blackouts due to the rising energy demand and an inefficient production and distribution system. How about the situation in China?
China’s economy booms and in the summer of 2010 we saw, for example, in the West massive energy shortages. Many manufacturing plants had to be temporarily shut down and they had to use Diesel powered generator back up systems to run the production, with a cost of around US$0.33 cents/kWh. Solar electricity is half the price!
So in several countries we see growing PV rooftop installations on manufacturing sites, is this also a trend in China?
Yes, the government just launched a new program for solar distributed power, which will bring a big push for commercial rooftop applications together with further declining prices.
Do you have PV installations on your own facilities? Do you use solar backup systems?
We don’t use solar back up systems yet, but we have several MW installed PV on some of our manufacturing sites. But not all of our rooftops are suitable for PV installations. In some of our new facilities, where we plan PV installations from the beginning, this will be easier.
Back again to the growth perspectives of the PV market in China and the government policy. Do you see a great openness for more installed PV, also under a new government next year?
So far the goals for PV installations have been enlarged with every new 5-year plan and I am very optimistic that this will continue. The first step was 18 GW by 2020, now the goal is already 50 GW by 2020. We from the industry suggested 100 GW, but some government officials already went further and suggested 150 GW. So the government is even driving the industry! By now the goal for PV is a one percent share of the electricity mix by 2020, but I am sure, this will be enlarged.
pv magazine believes 300 GW/a PV by 2025 can be achieved globally. This is a step to 100% renewable electricity mix by the year 2050 or before, where we will see about 10,000 to 12,000 GW totally installed PV. Do you think this is realistic?
Yes, this is achievable and necessary. The future of PV has just begun and we need a sustainable energy future.
Edited by Jonathan Gifford.