Germany: Digital solar and storage event pits hardware against services

A big dispute arose today in Germany’s capital at the conference, Digital Solar & Storage, organized by European solar industry association, SolarPower Europe, and the International Battery & Energy Storage Alliance Ibesa.

The panelists discussed how different the strategies in the industry are, and where they are heading. On one side of the “Dinner Debate” sat Andreas Gutsch, Managing Director of Solarwatt Innovation, while on the other, sat Jean-Baptiste Cornefert, Managing Director of Sonnen E-Services, Sonnen’s subsidiary that provides electricity services products.

Both are battery system manufacturers, with Sonnen E-Services focused on services, and Solarwatt specializing in hardware. It is well known that Sonnen claims electricity services could increase the independence of traditional utilities. Andreas Gutsch from Solarwatt does not agree with this. The main driver for consumers buying a storage system is independence, he states. If electricity services were to attract too much attention, this feeling could be partially lost.

SolarPower Europe believes these issues must be adressed now, because solar energy can benefit significantly through digitization in the energy system. Solarpower Europe president, Christian Westermeier, who is also VP at Wacker Chemie, said, “If you combine that with storage, you can compensate for the volatility of solar energy significantly.”

In addition, the downstream sector opens many opportunities. Westermeier sees the dispute between hardware and software in a more conciliatory way. Production can also have success in Europe, if it is innovative.

A Task Force for SolarPower Europe has just launched a study on digitization. The topic remains relevant, “especially because we see that the EU Commission strongly supports us in this regard,” said Westermeier.

The field is dynamic. SMA, which was long known as a hardware-focused company, is now moving towards the power services business. The inverter manufacturer has recently created a subsidiary for Energy Services in Munich.

“We use the data and generate recommendations for customers,” said executive VP, Jochen Schneider on the podium. To do this, SMA uses a new platform called “ennex OS”, which unlike previous platforms, should be open and operating in the electricity market.

So, it is not about selling as much hardware as possible over services. The importance of services is demonstrated by the goal, which SMA CEO Pierre-Pascal Urbon already announced in the spring: that the company’s solution business should account for 40% of total revenue in 2020.

Michael Schmela, the panel’s moderator concluded: “They [ hardware and services] come from different sides and move in the same direction.”

The event, which attracted 200 participants, according to SolarPower Europe, is expected to take place again next year.