Off-Grid Experts Workshop 2013 brings new light to the global PV market


"Do it the Off-Grid Way!" – this was the motto under which system integrator Phaesun GmbH from Memmingen together with their co-organisers Steca Elektronik GmbH and Morningstar Corporation and 20 other exhibitors from the solar trade invited to the third Off-Grid Experts Workshop on September 13 and 14. About 250 guests from the Off-Grid trade from Europe, Africa, Central America and the Middle East followed this invitation in the festival hall of Memmingen.

The Off-Grid Experts Workshop is exclusively concentrated on the field of Off-Grid supply with renewable energies. During an extensive workshop programme including expert lectures held by representatives of international companies and research institutes, the different application possibilities of autonomous solar, wind and hydropower systems were discussed.

Subjects such as rural electrification, solar water supply and desalination, as well as industrial and leisure time applications were to the fore.

Apart from the lecture programme, the visitors could inform themselves at booths of 20 exhibitors about the enterprises themselves and their product innovations and services. Moreover, the guests were given the chance to discuss topical subjects and trends with international experts in the „Off-Grid Experts Forum“.

In the context of the workshop, the first Off-Grid Experts Awards ceremony took place on Saturday 14.09. as well. This competition awarded excellent performances and interesting impressions in the field of "Energy Autonomy". The winner of the category “most innovative product”, the start-up enterprise Bright Products from Oslo proudly presented a solar lamp which can be used as a droplight, torch and table lamp and packed as a small parcel together with the lamp shade.

"The beginnings of the solar trade are situated in the Off-Grid area, however this is still a niche market which is very complex. The subject of Off-Grid is not given sufficient space within the large solar trade events, therefore we have now created the Off-Grid Experts Workshop as a special event for the Off-Grid market," Tobias Zwirner, Managing Director of Phaesun GmbH reports. The visitors’ interest that has constantly increased since the first Workshop in 2011, proves the organisers right.

Christoph Kocsis of Steca Elektronik GmbH whose solar charge controllers are used worldwide with Off-Grid projects reports: "The Off-Grid niche market registers constant growth despite the crisis in the solar trade, however it is very specific and requires flexibility. Enterprises which act flexible and creative in destination countries can contribute to the market growth."

Creativity and flexibility for business models for rural electrification

This creativity in the Off-Grid area was e.g. demonstrated by a Somali contributor who distributes solar systems to kiosk owners in remote rural areas of Somalia where power supply from the grid has never existed. These kiosk owners can increase their sales because they can offer cooled drinks and prolonged opening hours due to illumination.

The question whether minigrids or small decentral systems are better for rural electrification was in the focus of the Running Discussion. Catherina Cader from Reiner Lemoine Institute explained, that Mini-Grids which are operated with renewable energies make sense if there is already a grid available which e.g. has been operated with diesel up to now. In areas where there is no existing grid at all, the so called Pico PV systems are increasingly on the rise. These are small PV operated complete kits for illumination and the operation of small consumers such as mobile phones or radios. Norbert Pfanner from Fraunhofer ISE reported that the market in this area still has to cope with cheap products of low quality. During the past few years, however, the quality of the Pico PV systems available on the market has improved altogether which is proved by quality tests executed by Fraunhofer ISE in the context of the Lighting Global Initiative.

Increased interest in micro-hydropower

Apart from solar energy, the potential of wind power and micro-hydropower was discussed as well. Simon Klopp, engineer of Klleinstwasserkraft Klopp reported about a lively interest in this subject on the part of the audience. "In the field of renewable energies for Off-Grid systems, micro-hydropower still seems to be the Great Unknown, in spite of the enormous advantages such as a 24/7 basic battery loading capacity. Naturally, the basic prerequisite is an existing water course. Especially visitors from Central America showed that they are definitely interested in that."

Tobias Zwirner declares himself satisfied with this event. „The successful event shows us that an exchange platform of the Off-Grid scene on an international scale was missing. Both from the manufacturers’ and the visitors’ side, the feedback was entirely positive and the high quality conversations were well accepted."

The following enterprises contributed to the Off-Grid Experts Workshop as co-organisers and exhibitors: Steca Elektronik GmbH, Morningstar Corp., ET Solar, Studer Innotec SA, RIPEnergy AG, GWE Group, Western Co., Hoppecke Batterien GmbH & Co. KG, Fosera GmbH, Outback Power Technologies, Geo Model Solar, Frezite, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, Keckeisen, The Micha Design Company Ltd., Istar Solar, Trojan Battery Company, Primus Windpower Inc., Tec 7.

The Off-Grid Experts Workshop will be organised in a two year interval in the future and therefore take place again in autumn 2015.