Companies providing rooftop solar modules and services are expected to get a nice boost this year, especially in markets where government led initiatives are making residential and business solar powered buildings cost-effective.
After Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022 they now have the potential to be one if the world’s major hubs of renewable energy activity, with solar energy now a nascent force in the German energy base.
While Conergy is not a thin film or flexible thin film solar module specialist, it is a company worth watching since it is one of the major companies at the centre of the shift in policy, and one of their major recent solar developments was announced in May for a 105MW solar park, which will be the biggest solar plant in the Saarland region near the French border.
The company, which operates in 15 countries, is now targeting the ‘B2B’ markets as opposed to the large scale developments, 80% of Conergy’s business is Germany is performed on the rooftops via their installation partners.
Rooftop leads solar market
The rooftop led market is the most growing trend in Germany right now, which is being replicated in other mature European markets, and that is mainly due to the favourable feed in tariffs. This stems from the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) came into effect in 2000, which promoted the use of the tariffs.
From April 1 this year there was a significant change in the purchasing agreement as the feed in tariffs have now been reduced on a monthly basis, thus generating a much more purer energy market rather than a market that was investment driven and relied on subsidies.
This trend is set to continue far into 2013 where the customer will enjoy the independence that comes with having their own solar energy supply that will last beyond the 20 year period of a fixed tariff, achieving grid parity at a proven economical rate.
In the average German household Conergy says the electricity tariff costs 25 euro cents per kilowatt hour, which is no match for the 14-17 cent per hour for solar power, depending on the plant size and the location.
A spokesperson for Conergy says: “In Germany these developments have already taken a foothold. Over the last 10 years, electricity prices for end consumers have increased by an average of around 4% per year in the Federal Republic, and experts also expect energy costs to increase considerably further over the coming years.”
Home grown power
The spokesperson highlights the increasing value of self-power generation for the residential and commercial markets: “For the private house owner with a modest roof-top plant and for the business owner with a solar plant on their commercial buildings, it increasingly makes economic sense to produce more and more of their own solar power and consume it themselves, instead of feeding it into the grid and drawing electricity from the grid for their own consumption.
"The sharp falls in acquisition costs for solar plants and the continual electricity price rises have ensured that electricity from the grid is now more expensive for private households and the first business customers than the solar power they generate themselves.”
US-based companies, such as SoloPower, could be looking to get a bigger piece of the US and German rooftop markets given its specialism in flexible thin film rooftop products that have been likened to solar rooftop carpet. It was the first solar company to obtain certification to both IEC (61646 and 61730) standards and UL 1703 standards for flexible, thin film CIGS modules.
But the company is highly subsidised and will be therefore honed in on achieving boosted sales targets in the US first to appease US-based private and public investors.
News reports say that the company expects to be employing close to 450 people by early 2015, but that could be highly reliant on the attractiveness of state-based consumer and business incentives made available either through tax credits, solar grants or power revenue agreements through utility companies.
As the US consumer energy market becomes more aware of the long-term cost benefits of rooftop solar installations it could follow in the footsteps of the German consumer energy sector. Figures from the German Solar Industry Association (BSW) would imply that the German consumer is becoming more aware of the benefits of using solar as the primary energy supplier.
In 2011, photovoltaic energy’s share of the German gross power consumption is 4 per cent, but that share is expect to grow to 10 per cent by 2020 according to BSW’s projections, a growth reflected as there was 7500 MW of fresh solar energy installed in Germany last year.
The total number of PV installations has now spilled into seven figures at 1,090,000, with 5.2 million households whose electricity is now covered by solar power.
Another major development in Germany is a joint project between Berlin-based Parabel and SRU Solar from Berga. The JV has built a solar farm with a nominal output of 29.1 MW. The electricity stimulated by the plant is expected to power the requirements of the city of Eisleben, and could supply some 7,500 four-person households.
Thomas Rakow, CEO of SRU Solar AG outlines his view of the German solar industry: “The plant is not yet connected to the grid, but was guaranteed to be operational by September 30, 2012 as compliant with the EEG, so everything is now in action. As far as we can tell, there are no supply shortages or other impacts so companies who are part of the chain over solar developments are receiving a boost.”
“I think that solar will continue to be economical, I expect further price reductions in the first and second quarter of 2013 compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. However, we think there will be no more reductions for the rest of next year, and I believe the future is bright because of rising energy prices, rising demand and continuously improving technology and products, we believe that the solar industry has very good prospects in the next years.”
With the export quota of solar energy from German companies expected to reach 80% by 2020, the photovoltaic market can only be grateful that Europe’s biggest industrial beast is looking to develop its interest in the solar market-meaning the best is yet to come.
As Europe’s solar capacity growth stabilises, PV companies are shifting their focus from building new plants to operating and maintaining existing assets.
The US East Coast saw up to 5% less sunlight than average in 2014, while the West Coast enjoyed up to 10% more sun, according to a study published by Vaisala in April that highlights the volatile supply conditions faced by PV plant developers and operators.
CIGS-based utility-scale and rooftop projects in both established and emerging markets will help keep the thin film market share steady through 2019, despite an anticipated dip in 2015.