PV more profitable than onshore wind in Germany

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PV installations in Germany generated significantly higher profits than onshore installations despite producing less electricity overall, according to a new study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research.

The study examines the revenues and profits that can be made by PV and onshore installations in Germany. It also illustrates the huge differences between the two renewable energy sources, showing that PV installations generated significantly higher profits than onshore installations until 2012 despite producing less electricity overall. The study also points out striking differences between individual federal states.

The Fraunhofer ISI noted that while Germany’s energy transition sought to expand the capacities of renewable energy sources and to increase their contribution to electricity generation, the changeover was very expensive and financed primarily by the non-privileged end customers who pay the country’s renewable energy surcharge.

"This means they bear the brunt of the total costs which have increased substantially in recent years," the Institute said. "The question whether certain regions or actors profit more from the expansion of renewable energies than others is often asked."

As part of the joint Impact of Renewable Energy Sources (ImpRES) project, the Fraunhofer ISI partnered with the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the Institute of Economic Structures Research (GWS) and the Institut für ZukunftsEnergieSysteme (IZES) to investigate the question, resulting in the study Distributional Effects of the Promotion of Photovoltaic Expansion and Wind Onshore.

The organizations examined the amount of electricity generated depending on the federal state, size of installation and annual amount for photovoltaic and onshore installations and to calculate the annual profits.

Barbara Breitschopf, project manager of the study at the Fraunhofer ISI, highlighted the considerable differences in profits made by the analyzed renewable energy sources: "Iin 2012 the realized profits of €750 million made by onshore installations were significantly lower than for photovoltaic installations, which at around €2.7 billion, generated profits which were almost three times higher despite the fact that far less solar electricity than wind power is produced."

The investigation also found patterns for electricity capacities, electricity generation and profits that depend on the location of the installation. For example, the southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg alone cover around 40% of the installed solar electricity capacities in Germany and make the highest profits. These are primarily generated by smaller, often private installations, which at the same time bring in the lowest profit margin for the generated amount of electricity per kilowatt hour. The natural conditions and the high number of farms and roof surfaces available for solar panels all have an effect on the installed capacities, according to the study.

By contrast, northern states such as Lower Saxony, Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saxony-Anhalt generate approximately 19 GW more wind power than the remaining 12 federal states produce together. However, the profit margins differ substantially as the example of Schleswig-Holstein highlights: Compared with Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein — Germany’s northernmost state — has only about half of the total electricity capacity yet profits for 2012 were just 9% less. The reverse is true for the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin. Since 2000 it has had the second largest total electricity capacity but, according to a model estimate, it makes only a fraction of the profits which Lower Saxony or Schleswig-Holstein make.

Breitschopf said the huge differences could be partially explained by the natural weather conditions that are more favorable for onshore installations in Schleswig-Holstein than in more southerly regions in Germany. In addition, regional spatial planning has a great impact on the location for onshore installations.

The German version of Distributional Effects of the Promotion of Photovoltaic Expansion and Wind Onshore can be downloaded here.