Intersolar Europe 2016 opens and it's got storage on the mind

A sunny day in the heart of Bavaria has welcomed attendees to Intersolar’s 25th year, and the mood is jubilant, as the good times seem to be coming back to the solar industry. Last year saw record-breaking number of solar PV installed, 59 GW to be exact, and this year’s figures suggest installations will be even higher, while prices get even lower.

Europe’s flagship solar event is welcoming a total of 1,077 exhibitors, who will entertain 40,000 visitors from 165 countries. The numbers are impressive, but more than just eye-catching, they represent a growth from last year, which turns the fortunes of the event around after a couple of years of decline.

But this year is already beginning to feel like a means for celebration, as BSW-Solar CEO Carsten Körnig opened his speech by proudly proclaiming “we [solar] have become the least expensive form of electricity in many parts of the world.”

“Solar energy now costs as little as $0.07 per KWh in certain parts of the world,” Körnig continued. “Who would have dreamed of that a few years ago. We expect this to go to less than $0.05 per KWh in the coming years, and eventually $0.03 per KWh. This is the trend. Prices are dropping. It has gone from being the most expensive form of energy to be the least expensive in just a few years. This is almost revolutionary.”

PV industry is purring in every corner of the world, except Europe

The increase in installations and the drop in prices are working in tandem to encourage one another, and push one another further. This was highlighted at the opening of Intersolar, as the speakers lauded the growing markets of China, India and the U.S., and showed great optimism for emerging markets in Africa and in the Middle East, with particular interest in some of the off-grid activities in these regions.

However, the dark cloud hanging over the head of the European PV market reared its head once again, as the question remained if Europe will be able to move past its current stagnation. No clear initiatives or policies were mentioned for a turn around in Europe’s advanced markets, especially Germany – once the world leader for solar installations and still number one for installed solar per capita – but BSW-Solar still sees a bright future for PV in the continent.

“I remain optimistic for developments in Europe,” added König. “We paved the way for the industry and we need to be bold going forward. Those who started off as pioneers cannot slow down, and cannot take a break.”

The expectation and desire for a solar ‘revolution’ in Germany exists. BSW polls show that the majority of people in the country expect solar to be the energy of the future, and even more want it to be the energy of the future.

“Here in Germany, 80% of respondents in our polls said that they thought solar would be the main source of energy in the future,” König continued. “Also, 85% said that they would like it to be the main source of energy. This shows that there is a platform for future investment.”

Storage is the final piece of the puzzle

It’s hard to talk about a renewable energy future without mentioning energy storage and a transition to intelligent grids. This year’s Intersolar Europe has embraced this addition to the renewable discussion, and sees storage as a vital component of renewable energy economies in Europe and across the entire world.

This is reflected in the tandem event taking place at the fair grounds in Munich, the EES Europe, which is Europe’s largest exhibition for batteries and energy storage systems. The sister tradeshow of Intersolar has 213 exhibitors this year, and a 40% increase in size from last year.

Energy management from storage and intelligent grids is vital as the share of renewable energies in the global energy mix increases. “It’s about getting renewable energies into the grid and storing them,” said CEO of Solar Promotion Markus Elsässer. “We need to do this so that the fluctuating supply of renewable energy can be fed properly into the grid.”

And the signs are good. In Germany alone, one in three new PV installations are equip with a storage system. BSW expects this number to rise dramatically, and that the existing systems will start installing storage units post-2020, once the favourable feed-in tariffs reduce.

The prices for such systems are expected to dramatically reduce, as demand begins to grow. In fact, König explained that he expected a 10% to 20% drop in prices for storage systems in the next few years, which will make them even more attractive to consumers.

The stage is now set for an exciting few days in the south of Germany. Innovation is going to play a key role at the event, as the world’s biggest solar companies flex their muscles. The enthusiasm is palatable, after fresh life has been breathed into the industry, at an event that could inspire companies and investors alike to go that extra mile to keep momentum moving.