Open letter: German government must protect its solar industry

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In an open letter to Germany’s government, almost 35 PV companies and research institutes have demanded an industrial strategy for the German solar industry. “The signatories urge the government to take steps to retain and further develop solar technology as a key contributor of future energy in Germany,” stated the letter, sent to Federal Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, Peter Altmaier.

The signatories not only include German module manufacturers, but also technical engineers, suppliers and research institutes such as the Fraunhofer-ISE, which initiated the letter. “Without an effective industrial-political strategy [the] equipment supply, research and plant manufacturing industries are prone to leave for Asia,” the letter says.

Germany is a technological leader in solar and most PV patents have German origins, point out the signatories to the letter. Around 1,000 scientists are researching key technologies in Germany and mechanical engineers are providing production equipment successful on a global scale. “To give up all this would be negligent,” adds the letter. “Instead, a common effort [involving] politics, [the] economy and research is needed to secure investment into research and development, and foster the demand for sustainable solar products.”

Addressed to Germany’s political leadership – with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU at the head of a fresh grand coalition with the left-of-centre SPD – the document makes four demands.

Firstly, the signatories say sustainability criteria in relation to solar incentive programmes ought to be considered to a larger degree. Following France’s approach, the planned extraordinary tenders of 2 GW each in 2019 and 2020 in Germany should be subject to sustainability criteria as well as cost. France’s tendering mechanism considers modules’ carbon footprint and calculates it into the tendering process.

The second demand is for a stronger national PV technology exchange platform. With a stronger network between research institutes, mechanical engineering organizations and PV manufacturers, the industry could establish a one-stop-shop, cross-site R&D co-operation effort, as the Fraunhofer has already set up for microelectronics.

The letter’s signatories urge the Federal Government to secure strategic patents and know-how and, in their final demand, urge the government to foster European co-operation along the value chain, particularly between German and French manufacturing companies.

Following the model of Airbus, the aim is to establish production capacities on a multi-GW scale. That would enable European technologies to become market mature in Europe first and the Fraunhofer-ISE claims Mr Altmaier proposed a “solar Airbus project” himself five years ago.