5 Intersolar Europe 2016 takeaways


Here to stay

Intersolar Europe will be a major part of the solar industry landscape for some years to come. Despite the troubles facing various European markets, with Germany continuing to be depressed, the UK in decline and Spain, quite frankly, a disaster, Europe remains an important PV location. The European Union continues today to be home base for many companies active globally, including EPCs, and remains a key location in the development and application of next-generation solar industry trends including storage, connected devices (IoT) and e-mobility.

Intersolar organizers Solar Promotion estimates that some 43,000 visitors from 160 countries attended Intersolar 2016, up from 38,000 in 2015 and roughly on par with 2014.

1,077 exhibitors took part in Intersolar Europe and ees Europe, the jointly held battery storage exhibition, in 2016. Exhibition space itself increased by 8.4%, claims Solar Promotion, although there were reports that there was one hall fewer than in 2015.

What was undoubtedly clear was that the exhibition halls were crowded and many booths busy, particularly during the first two days of the show, and storage companies including Solarwatt, Mercedes-Benz Energy, and Sonnen showed their wares at large and impressive booths.

Brexit and beyond

The European solar market remains one in which macroeconomic forces and supranational politics play a major role: Solar is in the energy business at the end of the day. The importance of these bigger developments was unavoidable again at this year’s Intersolar Europe, where the news that the United Kingdom will step out of the EU dominated discussions on day three.

The precise impact of the Brexit on the market in the UK is, of course, yet to become entirely clear, but it has added significant uncertainty to the market. The booming UK solar farm market of 2014 and 2015 was unlikely to be repeated in the near future, given changes to the country's renewable subsidy program, meaning that the Brexit will hardly land a body blow to Europe's PV outlook. But the Brexit will very likely undermine business confidence, therefore, putting the breaks on the commercial and industrial (C&I) rooftop market, in which so many hopes had been placed.

Intersolar Europe has drawn visitors from far beyond the borders of Europe itself for some years now, and the trend only seems to have strengthened in 2016. A large number of attendees, not only exhibitors, from throughout the solar world descended on Munich last week. Industry participants from Latin and South American markets appear to continue to see Intersolar Europe as the big event in the EU worth attending, and additionally, a large number of attendees from many parts of Africa walked the trade show floor – some in organized groups.

Some exhibitors saw one impact of Intersolar Europe's ever-increasing international flavor as being that the event sees fewer sales than in previous years, while attendees use the event more as a showroom at which to gauge technology trends and to get a comprehensive overview of the products coming onto the market.

Just store it

There is no doubt that while PV sales in certain key markets, such as Germany, remain down on previous years, the battery storage segment is exhibiting strong growth. While estimates do vary, pv magazine heard reports that some 50% to 70% of all new residential PV systems installed in Germany today are being done so alongside a battery system. "Storage is becoming the driver," was the catchcry of many, specifically referring to the German market.

However, the German residential segment is not alone in seeing battery systems being embraced by consumers. Italy too, with its large installed PV base, and the UK are two countries in which a positive trend towards storage is emerging -, and the Britains' desire for independence, energy or otherwise, should come as a surprise to few.

Against this backdrop, it was no surprise that the ees Europe exhibition space increased by some 40% YoY this year, with 369 of the 1,077 total exhibitors across the two shows, offering a storage product to the market.

The irony in the rapid uptake and market penetration of distributed battery storage is that in some markets with lower irradiation levels including Germany, some argue that a residential battery system installed today does not make financial sense for the consumer – even when subsidies are taken into account. What is clear is that installers are becoming adept at making the storage system sale in the very least.

No immediate death knell for central inverters

Despite much of Europe having very little long-term utility-scale PV potential, a number of international companies used Intersolar Europe to exhibit their new and advanced central inverter units. A trend that has become apparent at scale – in Europe and beyond – has been a shift towards using string inverters at scale. This trend is likely to only get stronger as the markets mature, but the message from central inverter suppliers was: we’re not dead yet.

From ABB and Ingeteam to GPTech and TMEIC, new central inverter models were prevalent across the show, with the ‘next-gen’ 1,500 Vdc inverters expected to usher in a raft of new opportunities for EPCs and developers seeking more power density and lower costs. With string able to offer the promise of more competitive LCOE and energy harvest, this central inverter fightback was heartening, as was the realization that user-friendly monitoring and affordable O&M is increasingly high on the agenda for plant owners.

European outlook

Prospects for the European PV market in 2016 remain around the 8 – 9 GW mark. Deutsche Bank notes that "markets with strong demand potential include France, Germany as well as Turkey, Romania." The stock analyst's expectations for Germany was shared by few of the German attendees, the market's embrace of storage at both the distributed and grid level is delivering welcome revenues.

France looks likely to deliver an ongoing 1 GW annual market but is largely tied to government tenders. The Benelux countries are somewhat more robust than in years past, with Belgium rebounding in 2016 to deliver some 250 MW of demand, and the Dutch rooftop market strong despite government renewable tenders proving a formidable challenge to PV developers, as PV is forced to go head-to-head on price with wind and biomass for capacity.

And while it sits on the edge of Europe and outside of the EU, Turkey is showing signs of coming of age in 2016. Turkish developers attending the show reported ongoing regulatory hurdles, but innovative approaches to them being deployed to overcome them. A stable 1 GW annual Turkish market in the near future may yet become a reality.

pv magazine delivered its in-depth analysis of European markets in 2016 and beyond in the June edition, distributed at Intersolar and ees Europe 2016. Pick up your copy here.

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