Forum Solarpraxis: PV's call to arms

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Politics continued to remain front and centre of debate at the 14th Forum Solarpraxis, which concludes today in Berlin.

The future of the political landscape underpinning the solar industry in Germany and internationally was a major theme at the CEO panel, as yesterday’s first day of the Forum Solarpraxis wound up.

Possible changes to renewable energy legislation (EEG) under any incoming coalition government are seen as a threat to the emerging self consumption business model in Germany. Levies could be imposed on solar households hoping to consume the electricity produced on their roofs and there are industry fears this could impact an increasingly important market.

"In terms of the self consumption market, which is an important segment for PV, there is a lot of uncertainty," said Karl-Heinz Remmers, CEO of Solarpraxis. "I don’t know what will happen with the EEG levy, the industry needs a clear statement," said Remmers.

"We are in the final battle regarding the energy system of the future for the world," said Günter Haug, from BayWa renewable energy. "As the PV industry in Germany is eating into 1% to 2% of the electricity market every year, the electricity industry is trying to curtail this. Now we have to defend PV."

EEG framework is vital

Haug said, for at least the next two or three years, a legal framework like the EEG is vital to provide priority access to renewables for the electricity grid.

Industry veteran Udo Möhrstedt, CEO of IBC Solar, said the PV industry should look beyond politics and remain focused on its strengths in cost reduction. Möhrstedt said, over 30 years, he has been continually disappointed by politics: "Let’s be independent of politicians, then we can survive," he added. Möhrstedt argued PV can be an effective force as a grassroots movement, using social media to get its message across.

Alexander Kirsch, from Centrosolar, said that as important as politics are, cost reductions through economies of scale and technical innovation are what will help move PV into the mainstream.

Large and small scale

Major new trends in PV, outlined by the CEO panel, were smaller residential installations for self consumption in Europe and the distributed application of PV. Centrosolar’s Kirsch spoke of the importance of the residential market, and said finding the most efficient way to supply residential consumers is vital.

By contrast, in international markets, the CEO panelists said the economies of scale PV plants can deliver mean this market segment will continue to expand, delivering low cost energy.

Raymond Wong, from Sungrow Power Supply, said PV should look to other industries, in particular IT, and remain positive. "As an industry, PV is only small compared to the IT sector," said Wong. "Information technology is a $3 trillion market while PV is worth $100 billion. Growing from $100 billion to $1 trillion takes time." Wong said PV plants will be important internationally to educate markets to the potential of solar.

Amongst discussion of the battles and challenges PV faces, ZnShine‘s Stuart Brannigen said Germany should be proud of its PV achievements. "Germany could do with a bottle of optimism at the moment," he said. Brannigen emphasised the industry should remain focused on being as competitive as possible.

"I genuinely believe Germany has lead this industry for the last 20 years, and any installation anywhere around the world comes from German technology and German knowhow," added Brannigen.

Karl-Heinz Remmers had the last word on the CEO panel, concluding: "While we always look forward, first let’s survive."