Solar-hybrid applications offer solution for hard-hit EPCs

pv magazine: Traditional EPC companies in Europe are currently going through difficult times. In Germany there are now tenders for ground-mounted PV plants, but the volume is limited. Where do you see alternatives for European EPC players?

Thomas Hillig: In addition to grid-connected industrial self-consumption installations, solar-diesel hybrid systems in remote areas can be very interesting for European EPC companies. PV is particularly economical in this area as it’s measured against expensive diesel power.

Industry consultant Thomas Hillig launched THEnergy online platform in 2013.

pv magazine: For that you have to be active oversees, however. Or are there lucrative areas in Germany for solar-diesel hybrid systems?

Hillig: In Germany nearly all consumers are indeed connected to the grid. Here there are mainly pilot plants that manufacturers or EPC companies use for testing purposes. Solar-diesel hybrid systems have only rarely been built for commercial purposes – in remote islands or mountain cabins, for instance.

pv magazine: In what industries do such applications make the most sense?

Hillig: Typical target industries are hotel, agriculture, food, telecommunications, desalination, rural electrification and of course mining, the prime industry.

pv magazine: Why is mining the prime industry?

Hillig: Mines often have very high power consumption, allowing for large photovoltaic systems in the double-digit megawatt range. In addition, they are generally located in remote areas. Transportation costs increase the effective price of diesel. On the other hand, the remaining useful life of mines us often uncertain and the decision-making process for mining companies is rather lengthy.

pv magazine: What exactly is the effective price of diesel?

Hillig: The effective diesel price includes transportation, taxes, storage costs and losses due to theft.

pv magazine: Do EPC companies have to bring special skills to be active in the solar-diesel hybrid market or are there no special requirements?

Hillig: The integration of photovoltaics in existing plants is technically more demanding than the construction of grid-connected systems. Know-how in the field of diesel generators and, ideally, knowledge about production processes play an important role. In addition, sales and marketing becomes more important: Commercial consumers need to be proactively convinced. As customers are often located in remote areas, modern sales approaches, ideally supported by Internet access, become more and more important. Ultimately, differentiation is better than it is in classic EPC services. This also includes experience in the local target markets.

pv magazine: Should companies then seek local partners in order to acquire and implement projects?

Hillig: It’s difficult for companies in Germany, for example, to oversee acquisitions and implementation of projects. Currently, many companies are entering the market for solar-diesel hybrid systems. References can bring clear benefits. Local partners are usually the cheaper option compared to the opening of branch offices.

pv magazine: What determines the attractiveness of solar-diesel hybrid systems? Does the module or the price of diesel play a bigger role?

Hillig: The module price plays only a minor role here. The main criteria for the advantages of solar-diesel hybrid system are the effective price of diesel, the load profile, the remaining useful life, solar irradiation, available space and the duration of the decision-making process. In addition, one should consider whether there will be an Internet connection available in the near future.

pv magazine: Do you have any tips for EPC companies?

Hillig: It’s not a traditional industry — solar on small islands. The transportation costs of diesel are particularly high here. Some solar-diesel hybrid plants have already been built on islands, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg: The potential is immense. However, sales and marketing costs are disproportionately high. To support companies, we are soon starting a new platform on "Renewable Energy on Islands."