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“The energy revolution is solar”

02-08-12

Good news from the solar industry has been scarce lately. The list of German solar manufacturers that have been forced to file for bankruptcy in recent weeks is growing and includes Solon, Q-Cells, and Sovello. So what’s next? We spoke with Dr.-Ing. E. h. Frank Asbeck about the future of the solar industry around the world.

Do photovoltaics and the energy revolution belong together?

Asbeck: Despite all of the stumbling blocks, particularly in recent weeks, photovoltaics have spurred on the energy revolution. Today, you could say that the energy revolution is solar.

What is solar energy’s share in the energy revolution?

Renewable energy sources continued to expand in Germany in 2011. According to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, more than 20 percent of electricity is now generated using renewable energy sources. The expansion of photovoltaics in particular has contributed to this. The percentage of photovoltaics grew from 1.9 to 4 percent in one year. With the additional capacity from last year, this year’s percentage is much higher. Solar power with a capacity of around 22 gigawatts was generated on the afternoon of the Pentecost holiday. That’s a “sunny” record.

Why are photovoltaics better suited than other types of energy to bring the energy revolution forward?

There are many advantages to photovoltaics, especially the decentralized production and the use of energy where it is consumed. It avoids the much-debated costs of expanding the medium-voltage and high-voltage power grid. Photovoltaic systems generate electricity where it is consumed, and installation and operation create value on site. Such systems democratize electricity generation, shifting it from the hands of a few corporations to many small producers.

What’s more, citizens have a positive view of the energy revolution and photovoltaics in particular. This has been shown by multiple representative surveys.

In mid-May, the Germany’s Federal Council, the Bundesrat, voted to stop the amendment to the Renewable Energy Sources Act for now. The Mediation Committee is now to work out an agreement. What are your hopes for this round of mediation?

The vote demonstrated that the federal states have recognized the importance of the solar industry. The solar industry has created a real job miracle in eastern Germany, particularly in structurally weak regions. At the same time, we have cut costs, with the result that lower feed-in tariffs are paid per solar kilowatt-hour in Germany today than in Italy, France, or Greece.

The CDU-CSU/FDP’s arbitrary reduction of the feed-in tariff now means that the industry is facing challenges it cannot overcome. As it is the case in sports, improvements in performance in a highly developed industry can only be achieved through continual improvement, not in spurts. Performance explosions are only possible through doping or other unfair support.

The Mediation Committee will convene for the first time in the next few weeks. Of course, we hope that the CDU-CSU/FDP coalition’s plans to cut tariffs will be modified. The current plans would hit the mid-size roof segment from 10 to 100 kilowatts especially hard. The current version of the act excludes this class of feed-in tariffs. We hope the committee will change this.

The US Department of Commerce decided in late May to impose customs duties on Chinese manufacturers due to dumping and illegal subsidies. Is this a sign for Europe as well?

SolarWorld welcomes the decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is finally creating fairer conditions for competition in the American market. The fact that almost all of China’s solar companies were in the red last year yet still continued to cut their prices confirms our belief that dumping prices distort competition. The European Union must also create conditions that encourage healthy growth and innovation in the solar industry over the long term. That’s why SolarWorld AG is working together with other European solar manufacturers to push for similar anti-subsidy and anti-dumping actions in Brussels.



 
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