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Energy storage dominates opening days of EU solar conference

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As over 1,000 exhibitors put the final touches on their displays at the giant Messe fair complex built on the site of the old Munich airport, day two at the Intersolar Europe 2014 conference – the world’s biggest, featuring over seven aircraft hanger-sized exhibition halls – was rounding up with a debate between executives of some of Europe’s leading organisations and energy companies.

The debate rounded out a day in which battery storage was a leading theme. The conference is now being run together with the Electricial Energy Storage show (a similar combination occurred recently at Solar 2014 in Melbourne).

It was clear that, with changes to the EnergieWende (The Energy transition from polluting sources to Renewables in Germany) and other support mechanisms in Europe, that the industry was setting its sites on the next boom. Storage products would now be the bread and butter of the industry, and should be considered a major part of the solar offering.

IBC Solar’s Udo Möhrstedt – a veteran of solar, who founded his integration and solutions company over 30 years ago – had some clear messages for the industry. He said that an “investment cycle is underway and that although prices were now stable since last year, additional capacity in the industry will soon lead to an oversupply” causing “another significant step down” in module and inverter prices therefore system costs. He said he had seen 12 such cycles since he had started in the industry.

“The consolidation phase is over, people are now investing. South America, China and Japan are following Germany’s EEG model, while in some countries solar is now clearly cheaper than coal power.”

The biggest challenge, Möhrstedt said, was to find the markets and convince the politicians in these markets.

“If you are installing 1MW here, 10MW there, obviously the politicians can’t fill their pockets when compared to a 500MW coal fired power plant which is a big expensive project and many opportunities for that kind of business.”

“In Germany (renewables) have 27% of the market, 40% in Bavaria and 20GW at solar noon and we can reach the nation’s 80% by 2050 target, which no doubt is possible provided politicians do not tax the sun. Electric vehicles are a key part, however it’s rubbish if Mercedes or BMW are saying drive this electric car but it is running on an electricity grid with 40% brown coal, so for this industry to grow it must too support renewable energy.

“The idea that utilities can use the batteries to stabilize the grid – this is rubbish – so I will not let the utility take out my electricity.  However If every household, 10,000 households has a dedicated battery this can be used for stabilizing the grid and the car batteries could become a second hand battery in our basement in 10 years time as those units are refreshed”

Most important were Möhrstedt’s remarks around storage, where he said that 2kWh was not helpful, and we needed in the 10kWh to 50kWh range if we wanted to start managing the smart grid as a renewable grid.

At the moment, the thinking public hasn’t realised that the benefit to them is the same with self consumption as it was with payments from Feed-in-Tariffs and this was an immediate challenge, he said.

“What is important for mature markets like Europe” – while softening to a steady 10GW, which is still a massive market opportunity – “is seeking out the niche opportunitiy which includes storage and heatpump technology both heating and hot water” to make more self consumption and a greater market,” Möhrstedt went on to say. “Storage and demand side management is key to further growth in the industry.”

This was echoed by Christoph Ostermann, Chief Executive of Sonnerbatterie GmbH, one of the leaders in the emerging battery storage self consumption market in Europe.

Countering some of what Mohrstedt said was panelist Pekka Tiltinen – a senior executive at ABB who said that he was concerned about the continued cost slide, and from his companies perspective believed it wasn’t sustainable.

Tiltinen also said he thought solar must have its own market niche and not go after the segment of the market dominated by the 100 year old coal and nuclear providers.

However the other panelists were quick to contradict Tiltinen, hinting at his company’s links to the old-world power giants’ business models, and its wish to sell large scale HVDC and other transmission infrastructure with the support of government.

The rest of the panel, including Oliver Schafer, the new President of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and a senior Sunpower employee, were very clear that their companies and the industry as a whole should be thinking 100% renewable energy solutions and should strongly stick to the German government’s goal of 80% renewable energy by 2050.

Matthew Wright is attending Intersolar 2014 and covering it for Reneweconomy.
Intersolar 2014 will continue on Wednesday, when the full exhibition will also opening with over 50,000 expected to attend.  

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  • Leon

    You’ve gotta love those straight-talking Germans!