Installation Innovation Award winner: Maxx-Solar Energy

A total of 20 companies submitted their entries for the Installation Innovation Award, of which four finalists were handpicked by pv magazine. Their project concepts were presented at the recent Intersolar Europe exhibition in Munich, after which online viewers could vote for their favorite pitch. With more than 800 votes cast, the winner became apparent on Monday, July 8, with Thuringen, Germany-based Maxx-Solar Energy claiming top spot.

About the project

In 2011, Dieter Ortmann of Germany built a bridge to South Africa and founded a branch office there. "With the goal of bringing training through the newly-founded Solar Academy and becoming a supplier to the installers we train there," says Ortmann, the founder and Managing Director of the Maxx Solar Energy Group, which also recruited the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sonnenenergie to help with training. Now Ortmann is involved in a project that he is so proud of he threw his hat into the ring for the Innovation Installation Award sponsored by Hanwha Q Cells and pv magazine.

Ortmann arranged financing for a PV plant on the Dominican Grimley School; a school for the deaf attended by some 100 children. Ortmann thinks of the undertaking as an exemplary project that can act as a model for further PV installations. After all, even though many people are convinced of the benefits of solar energy, the requisite money is often lacking.

His partners at the school are nuns, some of them more than 70 years old. "I found it fascinating that people of an advanced age have an appreciation for the role of renewables and energy independence," says Ortmann. "Be more independent" is his motto for the project. At the Grimley School, the motto applies both to energy security and with regard to his helping people help themselves.

"Sure, there’s plenty of sunshine; it is definitely worthwhile to go there," says Ortmann. "But the financing is often a problem.” Ortmann and his team have to link up potential operators with investors and develop a good solution for both. The school is now renting the PV system.

The conditions are right. The location gets approximately twice as much solar radiation as Germany, for example, which makes the power half as expensive. Amortization for off-grid systems therefore follows a similar track. Added to that is the aspect of self-sufficiency, he says, as the power supply is not as dependable as in Europe.

Maxx Solar implemented the project with a local installer. "All we’re doing is helping people to do something for themselves, and we merely act in an advisory role," says Ortmann, explaining his motto. The rental model works much like similar schemes in Germany. The owners are from "our area," and comprise a tax adviser and a South African owner. The first thing is to be done is to show how this can work.

The school can purchase the system in 12 years for a low price, says Ortmann, for a price of around €100/kW. This price point, however, is often a sticking point. The rental payments cannot be too high, and the purchase price at the end of the rental phase has to be reasonable so that the tenant gets something out of the system. This is the case in the Dominican Grimley School project. The monthly rent is approximately €2,700. At a 70% self-consumption rate, that is already below the cost the school would have paid for the electricity. But the system design is likely to generate a self-consumption rate closer to 100%.

That means that, even in the rental phase, the school will see significant savings month after month – using 90% of the power it produces should save the school some €800 a year according to the figures provided by Maxx Solar.

It is a 20 kW system producing 33,000 kWh; the school needs 144,000 kWh.

"In ten years the system will have paid for itself," says Ortmann. The only thing lacking is an emergency power supply. He is currently exploring options for how to finance that.