The pv magazine weekly news digest

We kick off this week with Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Jenny Chase‘s brilliant summary of the reason utility scale solar is now making way for distributed generation (DG).

"The reason that Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain have large scale projects at all," Chase told our gaffer [that’s ‘English’ for boss – Ed] Jonathan Gifford, "is that governments screwed up the subsidy regime and ended up subsidizing more large projects than they meant."

Don’t expect that to be part of general election manifestos any time soon.

In a revealing interview about the rise of DG, Chase explained China needs a new utility scale target soon, Japan’s ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI) approved 70 GW of solar projects despite the fact a sizeable number were never viable and grid constraints won’t become an issue until 2017.

Platform games

Indian module manufacturer Vikram Solar announced it had connected the nation’s first floating PV platform with 10 modules generating at least 14 MWh per year on a lake in Kolkata’s New Town area.

The platform is anchored to the lakebed and grid connected via a submersible cable and the project developers boldly claim the technology is "suitable for connection on any body of water" in news that is sure to pile further misery on the ailing North Sea oil industry.

Japan leads the way in floating PV, apparently, with French EPC company Ciel et Terre connecting a 1.2 MW project in Okegawa in 2013 and working on a 13.4 MW platform – housing 10,000 Kyocera panels – for the Yamakura Dam, with completion set for March 2016.

With plans for a 15 MW scheme in Sonoma county, California by fall 2016, it’s something of a buoyant industry. Sorry.

Canceller Merkel?

‘Now, now, play nicely’ seemed to be the gist of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first speech to her nation’s Renewable Energy Federation Association (BEE) for six years.

Speaking at the federation’s new year bash, Merkel indicated the parcel had been passed in the energy mix party game, indicating Germans "need a respite from photovoltaics" and now it would be offshore wind’s turn because "everyone should get their chance."

That includes those nasty old fossil fuels too, presumably, the chancellor adding "We will continue to rely on fossil fuels in the future. We need to offer conventional energy producers a reliable perspective."

No mention was made of screwing up the incentive regime and it all did little to impress pv magazine/photovoltaik supremo Michael Fuhs, who described the politician as ‘listless’ and ‘erratic’ and offering little of substance.

Merkel’s most notable, and hubristic, claim was that Germany’s former leading role in solar had lead to massive capacity expansions abroad – presumably in the same way I played a pivotal role in my soccer club being crowned champions last season by wearing my lucky pants (in the English sense of the word).

Musk mollifies utilities

Mind you, who needs politicians anyway in these post-democracy times? Us ‘millennials’ – does coming of age eight years before 2000 count? – are so busy tapping away on our cleverphones, watching reality TV, looking at pictures of cats and reading listicles entitled ’10 reasons why…’ we don’t have time to worry about nonsense like voting.

We’d rather pay heed to the words of charismatic multinational corporation CEOs like Elon Musk, who has reassured us all by stating solar can live side by side with traditional utilities.

At a time when figures predict the amount of electricity generated by utilities in the U.S. this year is likely to be lower than the power generated in 2007, the big power companies – institutions, doubtless, close to all our hearts – are talking of a ‘death spiral’ as homeowners flee the grid.

Don’t worry, though, Musk told a packed press conference at the International Auto Show in Detroit (possibly while Barack Obama et al sat in an otherwise empty press suite next door staring at the walls), the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) will save utilities.

Only a cynic would accuse the Musk of attempting to get the power companies to help drive (!) sales of his Tesla motors and after all, he stunned his audience with unimpeachable figures to back his theory.

"Long-term, I think [electricity] demand approximately doubles," he confidently predicted, "and if half of that is met from solar and half from existing utilities, to a first approximation, the utilities’ business [share] remains about the same."

Brilliant, I’d get into a spaceship invented by our man, wouldn’t you?

The fall of solar?

Finally, beware of Greeks bearing gifts. It’s not clear whether Homer’s sage advice applies also to fellow Greeks but, after 18 months of noisily demanding net metering in the country, the nation’s renewables lobby was delivered a gift-wrapped wooden horse by the outgoing administration at the end of the year.

Yes, the outgoing administration. Less than 24 hours after calling snap elections for January 25, Greece’s deputy minister of environment, energy and climate change Asimakis Papageorgiou signed off a self-consumption net metering bill.

Not only meeting all of the renewables brigade’s demands, Papageorgiou surpassed them, allowing net metering for up to 50 per cent of household energy requirements – 100 per cent in the case of government buildings and not-for-profit institutions, such as universities – up to 500 kW at least.

That belated Christmas present came in the same week the government announced it would relax the financial constraints imposed on it by the EU government in Berlin – oops, I mean Brussels – if re-elected. Apparently the outgoing administration also intends to promise the moon on a stick for every voter and free jam tomorrow.