The 2023 Smart Energy Forum took place at Prague's O2 Universum conference hall from Oct. 17 to 18. The event drew 5,000 attendees and 72 exhibitors across 8,500 m² of floor space, with more than 30 panel discussions focused on solar. pv magazine covered the first day of the conference in Prague, Czechia.
As the central European nation clocked in 2,627 MW of installed solar PV capacity at the end of 2022 – which is 426 MW up from the previous year, according to estimates published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) – the Czech Republic’s continued achievement of these solar gains was on the lips of most attendees. However, the obstacles in the way of these achievements – fraudulent operators, lagging grid infrastructure and lengthy application processes – were also discussed.
Czech Environment Minister Petr Hladik said that the solar industry is currently experiencing a huge boom. However, he dashed hopes for the country only pursuing PV by stating that its generating capacity would be a mix of renewables and nuclear. There are six commercial reactors generating roughly one-third of the landlocked country’s electricity.
Hladik said the government is on the cusp of releasing a national climate policy. The document will establish a roadmap for the government to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, including a fivefold increase in solar and wind capacity. He added that the government also wants to increase grid flexibility.
Robert Sedmera, a sales representative for Austrian PV manufacturer Fronius, told pv magazine that the company has operated in Czechia since 1991. He said he does not believe the country’s solar capabilities would ever eclipse nuclear, but noted that the public appetite is leaning more towards solar and cheaper electricity prices. Sedmera said the price for electricity is currently “high” at CZK 6 ($0.24)/kWh, and noted that there is an additional distribution fee of around CZK 4 crowns, bringing the total cost to CZK 10/kWh.
“About two, three, four years ago, the price for the electricity was much lower, so then the also the return of investment was 10 years or 12 years,” Sedmera said. “Nobody would like to, and nobody could, I would say, imagine that electricity would now cost that much.”
He said that compared to Austria and Poland, Czechia is not meeting all demand for solar. The government is “taking too long” to approve installations, he said.
Martin Bursik, president of the European Renewable Energies Federation (EREF), said that the elephant in the room for Czechia is the government's lengthy approval process. However, he said that a directive is in the pipeline so times could be slashed if projects met certain criteria.
Pavel Chovanec, sales manager of local distribution company SolSol, told pv magazine that government subsidies have helped to ramp up commercial PV installations of late. But he agrees that local authorities need to expedite sluggish processes.
Miloš Preisinger, a renewable energy specialist for Swiss mechatronics specialist Stäubli, told pv magazine that the local solar market is growing due to changing government legislation and growing community desire to cut back on fossil fuel emissions. However, he claimed that “risky products and companies” have threatened to derail the reputation of the local sector.
Milan Hošek, a representative from the Czech Photovoltaic Association, echoed these concerns. He told pv magazine that the caliber of rooftop installations is the “biggest problem” facing the domestic industry. He said that incorrectly installed PV rooftop arrays pose lightning risks, and that could damage the sector's reputation.
Preisinger said another “major problem” is grid connection. The government needs to invest in improving aging infrastructure, he said, estimating it would cost “many millions” over at least five years to ensure that the entire country is properly connected.
“It is very important because many people have made investments to the photovoltaic system,” Preisinger said.
Stepan Chalupa, president of the Czech Renewable Energy Chamber, said that Czechia's energy market is continuously improving but better regulations are needed to prohibit fraudulent providers from operating. This concern was echoed by Natálie Foltýnová, marketing coordinator of German renewables developer BayWa re.
Due to surging energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine, “everyone wanted PV on their roof in the Czech Republic” last year, she said. This led to more mounting companies flooding the market, but not always delivering results. “They only collected money,” Foltýnová explained. “Now everybody is afraid, and nobody trusts the mounting system companies.”
Chalupa appeared to express optimism about the government working with stakeholders to establish key acceleration project zones. Later in the day, Pavel Doucha, founder and partner of the local law firm Doucha Šikola advokáti, clarified this legislative push in greater detail.
In a speech on upcoming Czech solar and battery energy storage system (BESS) legislation, Doucha noted a number of major legislative changes for 2023. He pointed to efforts to amend energy and construction laws for larger projects and the drive for a European Council framework to accelerate smaller renewable energy initiatives of around 50 MW. From next year, reforming construction laws will streamline PV environmental approvals, he added.
Expected changes in the upcoming year include delineating and simplifying solar array areas and amending the agricultural land fund to prevent solar parks on such land. Additionally, a new office in Prague will process large PV applications.
The most crucial change is identifying key regions for large-scale solar, with 13% of the territory deemed suitable. The government's Ministry of the Environment is mapping these regions, which are protected by up to 60 layers of regulations, including national park, cultural heritage, and rare species zones. The government aims to simplify these layers, but the extent of simplification remains uncertain.
Susie Su, eastern Europe sales manager for China-based solar inverter manufacturer Growatt, told pv magazine that a major challenge in Czechiac is that certain stock that clients bought last year was declining. However, there is the potential for commercial solar solutions “growing,” she said.
“I heard from our partner that there will be some subsidy model commercial solution, for example, a factory can install the commercial operation though the commercial solution, [and] can save more money on the electricity bill,” she said. “I think it will be good for business.”
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