EU PVSEC conference draws crowds despite crisis

The 28th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition’s (EU PVSEC) scientific program, which began on Monday in Paris, remains impressive: the 1,600 keynotes, compared to 1,800 last year, and full lecture halls show that, despite the crisis, researchers still have access to financing. Organizers have so far declined to provide official figures for the exhibition but it appears that there will once again be fewer exhibitors than the previous year, which should not surprise industry watchers.

The scientific program, however, does not reflect the change in the market as dramatically as expected. There are still plenty of presentations on new cell technologies and advancements in production technologies. This raises the question whether there are producers in Europe that can implement the results with long-term financing. There are also newly introduced sessions on network integration, integration of battery storage systems and financing.

Claude Turmes, a Green member of the European Parliament from Luxembourg, reminded attendees at the opening of the conference that the next UN Conference on Climate Change will also take place in Paris in two year. The focus will be a new agreement, which Turmes said was the last opportunity to comply with the two-degree climate target. Scientists have set this goal because they expect that climate change with a warming of two degrees by the end of the century is just about manageable.

It is precisely why Turmes regretted that the French government had not sent a minister to the opening. On the contrary, President Francois Hollande almost prevented any reporting on the conference. On Monday the president took the most important industry journalists on a trip to the coast, where a project for ocean energy technologies was presented. "The French utility EDF should be happy," said Turmes, as this technology will only pose a danger to the conventional business model in 25 years.

It was a reminder to visitors that they should not look for enemies amongst themselves. Chinese, Korean, European and American investors and scientists are not enemies but rather have a common goal. The opponents are those, such as the coal industry, that slow down the development of solar energy.

Turmes also sees the reason for this — photovoltaic is becoming really competitive. "We know that because EDF is negotiating with the British government over a feed-in tariff for nuclear power," Turmes said. The negotiated prices will range between €0.115 and €0.12 per kilowatt hour. The same EDF opposes feed-in tariffs for renewables. "This shows that photovoltaics is successful," he said. Turmes is optimistic. Technological progress cannot be stopped – even the music industry could not prevent file sharing. "Therefore I’m optimistic."

The PV Status Report published by the European Research Center, however, clearly shows the causes of the current crisis: Production grew in 2012 by 10%, the level of investments decreased at the same time by 9%. At the opening panel, industry experts, as is often the case, disagreed on the importance of the entire industrial value chain existing in each region.

Becquerel Prize for PV concentrator technology

The opening day also saw the presentation of the European Commission’s Becquerel Prize. Gabriel Sala from the Institute for Solar Energy at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) received the award this year. The director of the Department of Electronic Physics Department won for his work in PV concentrator technology. Sala has developed lenses for concentrators, built concentrator prototypes and evaluated their performance. He has also developed methods for the characterization of CPV modules and CPV installations in the field and is credited with the transfer of technology to industry. Indeed, Sala is responsible for a solar cell project that led to the founding of Spanish module manufacturer Isofoton in 1981.

Translated by Edgar Meza