Sunny prospects for the Netherlands

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Rolf Heynen expects 2 GW of new installations in 2019, after 1.4 GW last year. The market will also remain attractive in the coming years, according to the director of “Good! New Energy”, a market research company and organizer of the Solar Solutions trade fair just outside of Amsterdam, which ends today.

The market is driven by net metering for systems up to 15 kW on the one hand, and by tenders for ground-mounted projects and larger rooftop systems on the other hand. There are question marks for both segments, but these have not affected the good mood at the show. Times seem to be rosy, especially for investors.

According to Good!, residential installations financed via net metering accounted for 38% of the market in 2018, at around 550 MW. At roughly $0.15/kWh, this ensures good financing. Net metering was originally scheduled to be replaced by other schemes in 2020. But this date has already been postponed by one year, says Heynen. He assumes that net metering will remain in place for longer. All other promotional options would increase the administrative burden for officials, which is why net metering also has proponents within the government.

It is not clear how things will continue, but Heynen says installations that are now being built can rely on net metering for a certain period of time. And in the future, it should be possible to refinance residential installations within seven years, independent of subsidies or the regulatory regime.

Even if the government changes, one can assume that the general policy for solar will not change fundamentally, says Heynen. The renewables targets for 2030 are widely accepted and the country is very far behind other European nations. In addition, the authorities plan to shift away from heating with gas, which is produced in the country itself. It is therefore widely accepted that PV installations are necessary.

Big pipeline

Rooftop projects and ground-mount systems are funded under the SDE+ program, which can be applied for twice a year. For the round that is currently taking place, the feed-in tariffs are between €0.064/kWh  and €0.092 over periods of 15 years.

The tender volume has been reduced from €6 billion per round in 2018 to €5 billion in 2019. PV may have to compete with other technologies in the future, Heynen says. But in principle, the program will remain in place until 2025. “(And) it will be possible to build large-scale plants without subsidies,” he adds.

No matter how many new plants are approved in future, the hefty pipeline of 6.5 GW alone promises a large market. This volume was approved in previous rounds, but has not yet been built. In view of the high feed-in tariffs, investors are likely rubbing their hands in anticipation.

However, one topic at the trade fair has been how much of the pipeline will actually be realized. Some people are skeptical, but Tobias Friedrich — key account manager at Goldbeck Solar — has few concerns. “I don’t know of any market in which tenders are implemented so sustainably,” he says. Goldbeck is currently installing a 104 MW plant near Groningen, which will be the largest in the country. “The Netherlands have the best-functioning market in Europe,” he claims.

Heynen assumes that some of the approved projects will not be built. But that won’t harm the market to a significant extent. The reason why there will “only” be 2 GW in 2019, despite the large pipeline, is that investors have three years for large-scale plants. Some will therefore wait. Another reason for the relatively slow rollout is that in some locations, grid connection is an issue, especially in the north. In addition, there could be supply bottlenecks for solar modules.

German EPCs are very strong in the Dutch large-scale PV sector. In addition to Goldbeck Solar, the key companies include Pfalzsolar, IB Vogt and Innogy. Just a year ago, Baywa acquired a project pipeline of 2 GW from Groen Leven Group, several hundred megawatts of which are floating plants.

Pfalzsolar will probably install 80-100 MW this year, says Lars Josten, the company’s managing director. It is also active in the rooftop sector and is now installing 7,000 such systems, with an average size of 4.5 kW, as part of a project that has been running since last October. This project was made possible by a program called “de Groene Zone”, in which local authorities provide low-interest loans that can be sold together with the solar systems.

Inverter manufacturers

With an expected installation volume of 2 GW, the market is interesting for many of the well-known manufacturers at the trade fair, including most of the larger module and inverter brands.

Growatt, for example, presented two new inverters at the show this week. It expects growth of 20-30% in the Netherlands. One product is aimed at commercial installations and has been available since last December, with output ranging from 50 kW to 80 kW. The other product is intended for residential installations. With output ranging from 2.5 kW to 5 kW, it will be available in Europe from the end of the year. It has an additional input that allows homeowners to plug in batteries, if needed. It is also 35% lighter than its predecessor and is attractively designed.

The company has already sold 2,000 units in Australia, says Lisa Zhang, Growatt’s marketing director and assistant to the CEO. An “Online Smart System” can also be connected to the router by cable. This means that homeowners no longer have to change inverter settings when shifting between different wifi connections.

The commercial product includes an I-V-curve recording option — a feature that Huawei has also offered in the past. In addition, there is an integrated “PID Protection” option, which is a circuit that energizes the strings at night at reversed voltage, replacing the separate “anti-PID boxes” that are often retrofitted, if PID-problems occur. A circuit is also available that switches off in the event of arcs. These options are already very popular in China, but not yet in Europe, according to Growatt.

The company has also invested in after-sales services. In Europe, it has about 20 employees, according to the company, with assistance in several languages. At the end of this year, the company will also open a hotline. Growatt already has a warehouse in Rotterdam, so products can be replaced quickly when necessary.

Module suppliers

Trina Solar introduced its new “full black” module, which is not only completely black, but also offers 340 W more power than earlier models. “It’s perfect for the residential market,” says Klaus Hofmeister, product marketing manager at Trina Solar. In addition, the company displayed a model of a floating PV system at its booth, which makes sense, given the potential for such applications in the Dutch market.

Longi Solar also believes in the Netherlands. Every month, the company ships a fixed number of 60-cell modules to ensure rapid delivery, says Nick Wang, the company’s EMEA sales director. From May, it will ship 15 MW of mono PERC modules per month, with about 80% of them going to rooftop systems, according to Wang. Projects will be separately supplied, often with 72-cell modules. He assumes that there will be more supply bottlenecks in the module market this year. The fixed deliveries are intended to protect installers from being left behind in the face of priority projects. Wang expects prices to remain stable, nevertheless.

The residential market is increasingly dominated by black modules. Canadian Solar ships about 4-5 MW per month for this segment. Poly modules are also still being used in projects — up to 270 MW in 2018 alone. However, with 1.7 GW in 2019, Philipp Heynen, Canadian Solar’s regional sales manager for Europe, expects less additional capacity than Solar Solutions organizer Rolf Heynen.

Jinko Solar also supplies large volumes to the Dutch market. Arda Kristaporyan, the company’s country manager, assumes that it will supply at least 250 MW. Only a quarter of this will go into projects, with the rest likely to be shipped to Rotterdam and sold via distributors, so there is a continuous supply.

“We concentrate solely on our ultra-high efficiency Mono PERC premium product Cheetah,” Kristaporyan says. He does not expect additional price declines for the high-efficiency modules. Rather, he anticipates relatively restrained price increases, as demand in China will rise again from the third quarter.

Peter Desmet, CEO of Solarclarity — probably the largest distributor in the Netherlands — also sees the possibility of supply bottlenecks. If everyone gets enough modules, 2 GW of installations will be possible this year, he says. He therefore primarily judges suppliers on the reliability of their deliveries, which is why he says he appreciates the Longi approach.

Sector coupling and battery storage

The Dutch market is also developing beyond PV alone. Since last year, suppliers of heating systems, solar thermal systems and heat pumps have also been exhibiting their products at Solar Solutions. “There is a large group of installers in Holland who are active both in heating construction and in the construction of photovoltaic systems,” says Rolf Heynen.

Sector coupling and the combination of PV systems with battery storage will probably become more attractive in the years to come. Net metering currently doesn’t accommodate such solutions, as prosumers can use the grid as storage. But even if net metering is not abolished, Heynen says, there will be regulations that promote local consumption.

Inverter manufacturers such as Huawei and Growatt like to note that their devices can be connected to batteries long after initial installation. “PVT systems are also on the rise,” says Heynen. The availability of such modules, which combine solar thermal and PV, is still low. However, Heynen thinks this is a valid trend and expects them to become more attractive as the gas phase-out advances in a country in which space is limited.