The impact of transition

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pv magazine: Many of our readers are still talking about Intersolar but you have not only changed the name, you have also added new content. What are your plans?

Markus Elsässer: As the leading trade fair for the solar industry and the largest in Europe, Intersolar Europe is still around. We’re just tightening the focus of Intersolar to solar issues. But, overall, there is much more content. We’ve now launched the “The smarter E” as an additional platform. It consists of Intersolar and three other concurrent trade fairs. They are Europe’s largest battery and energy storage trade fair EES, which has run parallel to Intersolar since 2014, and the two new trade fairs, EM-Power and Power2Drive. EM-Power is focused on smart energy use, especially in industry and buildings, while Power2Drive is designed as a platform for charging infrastructure and electromobility. The four trade fairs are held simultaneously and reflect the changes in the energy landscape.

So, does this mean that even with a more focused Intersolar, visitors are getting more bang for their buck?

Exactly. They will get the topics that Intersolar has always offered, along with issues that are growing in importance due to the rapid change in the energy landscape: additional exhibitors, additional products and new business models currently under development.

Are you expecting new groups of visitors?

Yes, in fact, from many areas that are currently undergoing change – in trade, industry and the energy sector itself. Often, it’s a matter of their own energy supply. The trend towards a distributed energy supply, the digitalization of the energy industry and the liberalization of the markets offer far more opportunities than before. Industrial and commercial enterprises and the housing industry can now organize their own energy supplies and integrate a variety of solutions. For us, this has led to the emergence of new potential target groups, and we’re offering them not only solar, but also complete state-of-the-art energy solutions based mainly on renewable energies. Electromobility is also included in these energy solutions, making it the subject of The Smarter E. This also includes the new energy providers, which are now developing their own approaches to the market and positioning themselves with new business models.

So, also potential customers of the solar experts who have been fixtures at Intersolar for a long time?

Yes, the EM-Power trade fair has a particular focus on professional energy customers with high levels of energy consumption in their residential, commercial or industrial buildings and who have to organize their energy supply. We want to target them specifically. In addition to our four events this year, there will also be Automatica, a trade fair for automation and robotics, which Messe München is organizing at the same time. As a result, many industrial companies will also be on site as visitors. We’ll offer them the opportunity to come to our events and find out more about the topic of industrial energy supply. At EM-Power, we’re also collaborating with Messe München. It is on board as co-organizer. Messe München hosts a variety of leading trade fairs, devoted to issues like construction, real estate and municipalities. At those events, energy supply is only a marginal topic. In cooperation with Messe München, we will also be making a special offer for visitors to these trade fairs, so that they can also come to The Smarter E to find out more about what opportunities the new world of energy has to offer.

In the past, the relationship with Automatica was role played by photovoltaics production at Intersolar. The partnership with PVSEC also led in this direction. Are there still exhibitors from this sector?

Well, we still have many exhibitors from the field of production technology, not just in terms of PV production, but also battery production. Automatica is an interdisciplinary trade fair for automation, robotics and production technology. Exhibitors at our trade fair are already very focused as suppliers for the photovoltaic sector or for battery cells and modules for batteries. Nevertheless, we see a double benefit for the visitors. The visitors who visit Automatica and spend a lot of money on factory automation are potentially also of interest to our exhibitors, since these factories also need energy solutions.

Why are you so committed to industry and commercial businesses right now?

Developing or enhancing such a trade fair doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a certain amount of lead time. We recognized that with the isolated topic of solar energy, we could better reach certain target groups from industry and commerce, as well as the energy and housing sectors, if we once again tailored events more specifically to the respective target groups. We do this by bundling four leading energy trade fairs under a single roof. With Intersolar and EES Europe, two of these are already leading trade fairs in their respective sectors. In the context of EM-Power, we will be offering the topic of smart energy use in industry and buildings with a focus on individual target user groups. The exhibitors represented at the EM-Power will present the complete range of systems. In addition, the solutions on show have now become considerably more economical than they were two, three or four years ago.

What is the framework of the program?

In the EM-Power area we have a three-day forum in the hall. This will currently be tailored to five target groups, each of which will have compact forums lasting for three hours. These will focus on specific topics and industries. We want to bring in visitors and show them what is possible with examples of best practices and information on funding. To this end, we managed to bring the Federal Office for Energy Efficiency on board as a partner. It will be able to provide targeted information on the range of funding opportunities available to the respective target groups. In this way, we want to create tailor-made offers for industry and commercial enterprises as well as the housing industry.

Is there anything like this already in Germany?

We are not aware of any event that puts professional energy customers in the foreground and offers a targeted, tailor-made program for them. There are of course many trade fairs that focus on individual sectors. What we are aiming for now is to present solutions for comprehensive energy supply based on a complete renewable energy supply.

Who do you have in mind as the target group for Power2Drive?

For us, the theme of Power2Drive is straightforward. The energy transition is already relatively far along in the electricity sector, with a renewable energy share of 36 percent in Germany. But we’ve still got a long way to go in the transport sector. Over the past few years, we have been laying the groundwork in electromobility with special shows. Now seems to us to be the right time to launch the event, since the issue is bound to gain momentum in the coming years. This is being driven by falling battery prices and the entry of large companies into the sector, mainly from China and the USA, but also in Germany. It is therefore important to make progress with the charging infrastructure and to devise concepts that provide grid stability and ensure that the supply from renewable sources is available, and that the vehicles are not charged using environmentally harmful lignite-fired electricity.

Thanks to Intersolar, photovoltaics is already present in Munich with a wide range of products and services as an important pillar of the renewable power supply. The focus of Power2Drive is on solutions for intelligent use of solar power in the transport sector. We are addressing various target groups involved in the expansion of the charging infrastructure, whether as manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, planners, installers or professional users.

There won’t be any electric cars?

We don’t see the event as a car show, but there will be some vehicles there. For us, what’s more relevant is their supply of renewable energy. It is important for us to have smart controllers and hardware as well as attractive business models. This fits nicely with our The-smarter-E platform.

Will there also be a conference or forum?

For the first time we will have both a Power2Drive conference and a forum with a corresponding program in the hall. We want to show our visitors here the connection to the PV industry. Even a relatively small amount of photovoltaics, say three kilowatts-peak, is enough to generate the power needed to drive 14,000 km a year. It goes without saying that when installers sell a photovoltaic system, part and parcel with that is the idea of connecting it to electromobility at the same time. Here, too, there are already vehicle suppliers that rely on the sales channel of PV installers.

EES has been strong in recent years, mainly due to the boom in the home storage market. Is there also room for medium and large storage systems?

Is there also room for medium and large storage systems? Before the launch of EES Europe in 2014, the subject of storage technology had already been represented in special shows at Intersolar for several years. Like the Power2Drive event, we took the step of transforming it into a standalone parallel fair. At the same time, it was clear that it was not enough to concentrate only on solar home storage systems. We wanted to cover more applications and we managed this very well. With the launch of EES, we have been able to address the issues of large-scale power storage, electric vehicle storage systems and uninterrupted power supplies.

What’s new at EES this year?

This year we have an additional focus on battery production. There is also a small forum and a shared booth. Production is currently a hot topic of discussion when it comes to setting up battery cell production in Germany or Europe. To this end, we are cooperating with RWTH Aachen University. There is also a special area for fuel cells and hydrogen.

How have you experienced the impact of digitalization? The very fact that you now have to bring these four issues together?

We discussed digitalization last year in the context of a forum because it has really made many new business models possible for the first time ever. This makes it a very important issue for us, in addition to distributed power generation and storage. The topics of digitalization, cyber security and new business models will once again feature prominently in the conference and forum program this year. Within a The smarter E conference, digitalization, sector coupling, and networking will all play a role. The focus will be on new business models resulting from the digitalization process, such as electricity trading or marketing and peer-to-peer models.

In the conference, there is a session entitled “What does the return of the major companies mean for the future of solar?” Do you see more conventional companies coming to Intersolar and perhaps replacing medium-sized renewable energy companies?

If you look at the renewable generation landscape in Germany, it has been around for a long time, and is still very much dominated by private investors. In Germany, where the expansion of renewables was driven by feed-in tariffs, a great deal of private investment has been made, be it industrial companies, commercial enterprises or private individuals. For a long time, the energy industry has not really been an investor. Only in recent years, once it was clear that the traditional energy market would not continue to function over the long term, have we actually seen a change. The traditional energy suppliers are increasing their involvement and presence a great deal. The big players will also all be present in Munich. Added to that is the exciting development that many smaller companies, EPCs, planners and start-ups that have developed interesting concepts in the field of digitalization and have already been bought up by traditional energy suppliers. But I wouldn’t say that this has already led to a large displacement of renewable energy providers.

The smarter E is a European trade fair. How do you intend to attract the large-scale solar investors from outside Germany to the fair?

The smarter E Europe combines four leading energy trade fairs, of which Intersolar and EES are the most international industry events with 160 nations and 50 percent of visitors coming from abroad. We naturally invite the target groups of our new platform from an international audience. Intersolar’s network of events in Bangalore, Dubai, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, São Paulo and Tehran help to open up key markets and reach investors as potential visitors. The smarter E is conceived as an innovation platform that helps shape and comprehensively present the new energy world.

Do you expect more exhibitors and visitors than last year?

We definitely expect more than last year – a total of about 1,200 exhibitors. We are currently seeing the draw of the “smarter” theme. Overall, we will add about 15 percent more floor space this year, but the biggest increase will actually come from the area of networked system solutions.

What will be center stage in the The smarter E conference?

It will deal specifically with interlinking issues; things like sector coupling, digitalization, virtual power plants, integrated power plants and marketing models. We will also be presenting a The smarter E Award for the first time.

What will prizes be awarded for?

We will have the classic Intersolar and EES awards, which will continue to be awarded specifically for technology and advancement in the solar or storage sector. But we’ve noticed in recent years that new business models, such as sector coupling and digitalization, are difficult to reflect in these awards. In those fields, it is often a matter of new approaches to merge overarching issues, which is why we have decided to add another award.

The smarter E will take place in Munich from 20 to 22 June.