Merkel: Respite from photovoltaics

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday spoke at the German Renewable Energy Federation’s new year reception for the first time in six years. More than 1,000 guests attended the event and waited patiently to hear what the chancellor had to say to the country’s renewable energy industry.

In typical fashion, Merkel abstained from any clear and detailed comments. She stressed that Germany’s government remained committed to the energy transition and called the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) reform a success, saying it made the further expansion of renewable energy more manageable and created reliable conditions. “However, it’s almost impossible to satisfy all interests," Merkel said, adding that a workable compromise was nevertheless successfully achieved, balancing energy supply security, affordability and climate protection. Throughout her speech, the chancellor resorted repeatedly to political rhetoric to justify the government’s policy.

One of Merkel’s comments seemed like a punch in the face to solar industry representatives in particular: "It is right that we now need a respite from photovoltaics," Merkel said in view of new capacity figures for 2014, which failed to reach government targets. Estimates put the figure at between 1.8 to 1.9 GW. The federal government’s annual PV development goal as outlined in the amended Renewable Energy Act was 2.5 GW. Merkel didn’t mention the thousands of German jobs that have been lost in the country’s solar sector. Instead, she made the case that the strong PV capacity increases in Germany between 2010 and 2012 had resulted in massive capacity expansions abroad. Merkel argued that Germany needed a diversification of energy sources and that PV had already been greatly expanded in recent years. "I think we will now have a lot to learn from offshore wind. Everyone should get their chance.”

Fritz Brickwedde, president of the Renewable Energy Federation Association (BEE), had demanded in his opening remarks that there be no re-oligopolisation through the back door” with the planned changes in renewable energy incentives and the introduction of tenders. The chancellor promised in her speech that even small players would continue to have future opportunities.

Merkel’s cabinet is still hammering out the guidelines regulating the proposed pilot tenders for ground-mounted PV plants. According to pv magazine information, the cabinet is set to approve the draft next week. The government is looking to launch the tenders in the first quarter of the year.

Merkel endorsed the BEE’s position with regard to the electricity market. The chancellor said she shared the organization’s skepticism about capacity markets. However, she didn’t say whether she would seek to prevent their introduction. "We will continue to rely on fossil fuels in the future. We need to offer conventional energy producers a reliable perspective." Little time remains for a decision on a new electricity market, however. The government is expected to publish a green paper and announce its decision this year, Merkel said.

Speaking about the controversial introduction of smart meters, Merkel said it was important to set up privacy regulations correctly at the same time as the smart meter framework conditions. Merkel failed to explain what exactly she meant by “correctly,” however.

Throughout her speech, the chancellor appeared listless, sometimes erratic, and offered little substance. Indeed, Merkel, who has a PhD in physics, even appeared to have a difficulty with measurement units, saying at one point, "Any unused kilocalorie is the best."

At the end of her speech, Merkel stressed that the BEE had a large influence in the German parliament, the Bundestag. With resistance from the renewables sector, reforms are difficult to pass, she said, and appealed to the industry to use this power with responsibility.

Translated by Edgar Meza