15th Forum Solarpraxis begins with a buzz

Day one of the 15th Forum Solarpraxis (SPX) kicked off today amid what appeared to be a renewed vigor for Germany’s solar industry.

After a tumultuous 12 months that has seen German PV market growth stunted, attendees at the SPX conference have bucked the despondent trend, bringing an upbeat vibrancy to the show that many feared may be absent this year.

The keynote speech to open the 15th SPX was delivered by Prof. Dr. Klaus Topfer of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) to a packed and enrapt audience. Dr. Topfer spoke of the challenges the German market has faced this year, and will in the future, but he was ebullient on the topic of renewable energy’s future journey, to which solar PV in Germany will play a decisive role.

More than 60 exhibitors, packed into the exhibition hall, have enjoyed brisk and animated discussions on the first morning of the show. Some of the biggest names in German and global solar are in attendance, including Huawei – showcasing its new smart PV solution – Tesla Motors, JA Solar, ReneSola, Heraeus, Yingli Green Energy and e.ON Energie.

Future PV Forum

While the near-past and current present of German solar was up for endless discussion on the exhibition floor, the future potential of the industry was being laid bare in the Future PV Forum.

A series of talks, discussions and presentations regarding the potential that exists within PV was well-attended, with topics ranging from the advent of mesoscopic solar cells (such as dye-sensitized and perovskite cells) and the potential of organic PV (OPV) to the rather more robust sectors of industrial production of high-performance solar cells and the challenges of manufacturing wafer quality crystalline silicon on glass.

The inverter question

A number of leading inverter suppliers are also in attendance at the SPX Forum, many with one eye, and ear, on the discussion trends and topics. As price pressures have moved along the solar supply chain – especially in Germany – the inverter industry is increasingly tasked with taking up the strain.

This presents both a challenge and an opportunity, said Bernhard Griesinger, sales manager for Germany south-west at Advanced Energy. “With the way the German solar market has been in decline this year, we have seen this as an opportunity to explore the German and European market,” Griesinger told pv magazine. "Inverter prices are coming down across Europe, which gives Advanced Energy hope that we can begin to grow in this market."

Since acquiring Refusol in 2013 – ostensibly to gain greater prominence in India and Europe – Advanced Energy has enjoyed a stable 12 months, securing 3.5% global revenue share at the end of Q2 2014.

The company is particularly competitive in the large commercial space, Griesinger said, and is using SPX to showcase its AE 3TL 40/46 kW string inverter, which can be used in large commercial-scale installations and, increasingly, multi MW-scale ground-mounted solar plants.

"Our 3TL 40 and 46 kW string inverters have a number of advantages over central inverters at utility-scale," added Griesinger. "They are easier to repair and replace, and all have excellent monitoring systems embedded that can be managed from the Advanced Energy sitelink.

"These advantages are making it easier for Advanced Energy to grow into new markets because we can ensure our standards are maintained without the expense of training or employing loads of technicians on the ground."

Stephan Kring, Kostal’s director of sales for Austria and Switzerland, sees similar opportunities for the company’s new PIKO 20 string inverter, which was on display on the exhibition floor.

"We keep on hearing about the growing trend for using string inverters at MW scale," Kring told pv magazine. "Previously, with our PIKO 10, 12, 15 and 17 range of inverters, we did not quite possess the experience necessary to properly explore these MW-scale opportunities. But the PIKO 20 has the potential to open up this market, so we will see if this is the first step towards making that more of a reality."

The growth of self-consumption in Germany is helping to spur interest in Kostal’s string inverter products, Kring said, adding that the market for inverter suppliers – while reduced on previous years – is still competitive and full of opportunity in different areas.

Also displaying its latest grid-connected inverters is China’s Sungrow, which is increasingly seeking expansion opportunities in markets outside of its own domestic market after falling out of the top 10 global revenue share at the end of Q2 2014 for the very first time.

On demonstration is the Sungrow SG30KTL three-phase transformerless 30 kW inverter, which the company claims is ideal for larger commercial systems.

pv magazine will be reporting live from the SPX Forum throughout the day Thursday, Nov 27, and Friday, Nov 28, so be sure to check back regularly for further updates and breaking stories.