Wednesday, July 7, 2010


“The sun and its enormous power will play a decisive role for future energy production.” You would not expect such words from Wulf Bernotat, the boss of major German energy supplier Eon. Until now, he has stuck up for nuclear and carbon energy above all, but not for solar energy which has not been considered profitable. In the meantime, the energy manager has changed his mind: In June, Eon commissioned its first solar park with five megawatt capacity in the South France’s Le Lauzet. A month later, the Düsseldorf corporation acquired Conilhac, a developer of solar power stations in South France. By 2011, Eon wants to invest eight billion EUR for the development of renewable energies – a considerable part of which will be for photovoltaics, as Bernotat emphasises.

Eon is just one of many power suppliers, who are suddenly focusing on the sun. Throughout the world, providers (major corporations and smaller regional suppliers) are investing in photovoltaic projects, partly planning giant solar power stations with capacities of several dozen megawatts. Since the end of 2008, modules have become up to 40 percent cheaper. As a result, almost competitive power can be produced in sunny regions,” claims Henning Wicht, analyst of Munich market researcher iSuppli, about the run on solar technology.

Big business in America
Especially in the USA, energy providers are taking advantage of this “shining hour” to refresh their fossil portfolio with green energy. In California, for example, power customers in peak usage times had to pay almost half a dollar per kilowatt hour – in solar parks, solar energy can already be manufactured cheaper than this. In addition, photovoltaics are attractively promoted in the USA: Using the Investment Tax Credit, investors can deduct up to 30 percent of the investment total of commissioning the solar plant from the payable tax. Furthermore, 50 billion dollars are expected to flow into renewable energy from President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package – and consequently boost the construction of photovoltaic power stations.More info at

The San Francisco-based energy provider Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is already investing strongly: It wants to buy energy from two photovoltaic power stations with 800 MW overall capacity from the two American solar companies First Solar and Sunpower. These power stations are to be built in California’s San Luis Obispo. The first plant which Sunpower is equipping with 250 MW crystalline modules should be producing energy by 2010. The commissioning of the second, for which First Solar is providing 550 MW thin-film modules, is planned for 2011. PG&E wants to provide 240,000 people with solar energy from San Luis Obispo. In the meantime, other energy providers are ordering modules from First Solar. “We are currently negotiating with various power providers about a project with 1,300 MW overall capacity, made up from several individual projects,” says company spokesperson Brandon Mitchener.

In Europe too, energy providers want to tap into the sun more intensely. “The EU Guideline for Renewable Energies obligated power providers to increase their percentage of green energy. Now is a favourable opportunity to do this,” says Markus Wackerbeck, analyst at EuPD Research. French EdF, Iberdola in Spain and Enel in Italy are already active in the regenerative area but want to increase their proportion of green energy. Rome-based Enel for example has founded a joint venture with photovoltaic manufacturer Sharp for this reason, the goal of which is to construct a thin-film production site with 160 MW annual capacity in Rome. Production should be installed directly on-site. “The alliance wants to install solar plants with 161 MW of total capacity in Southern Italy by 2011,” says Sharp PR associate Reinhard Buchner.More
info at

Public utilities invest in solar parks
In the race for the highest percentage of green energy, Eon wants to close the gap on the leading group quickly: By 2015, the corporation is planning to increase the percentage of renewable energy in its electricity mix from three to eleven percent. The regenerative production capacity should then amount to ten GW. Even smaller energy suppliers are increasing their percentage of solar power: In June, the Rhineland-Palatinate-based Juwi Group, which specialises in renewable energies, commissioned the Holzgünz Solar Park in the Unterallgäu region with 4.7 MW capacity for Stawag Solar GmbH, a subsidiary of the Stadtwerke Aachen (public utilities). The power station, which cost about 15 million EUR and is made up of First Solar thin-film modules, will create more than five million kilowatt hours of energy every year – enough to provide about 1,500 households. Together, Juwi and Stawag want to plan and operate more solar power stations. Similar cooperations have already been started with the Stadtwerke Mainz, Pfalzwerke in Ludwigshafen and Mainz-based Rhein-Hessen Energie.

For the solar industry, the green power commitment of energy providers comes just at the right moment. The financial crisis and sudden decrease in solar payments in Spain have caused dramatic decline in the demand for modules. Therefore, manufacturers and their suppliers have had to curtail their production, going into the red in some cases. Eon & Co are alleviating their situation: Producers are once again thinking about expansion, suppliers of turnkey production lines are dusting down their plans for modern gigawatt factories, the workshops of machinery and plant manufacturers are gradually refilling. Many of the technical production innovations and innovative factory concepts of equippers will be on display between 28 September and 01 October 2010 at the solarpeq trade fair for solar production equipment in Düsseldorf.

Manufacturers are becoming all-rounders
However, the entry of energy providers into solar energy is ensuring changes on the photovoltaic market. “The architecture up to now is beginning to falter,” says Wackerbeck. Many providers have sought partners, from whom they can buy solar power on the basis of long-term service level agreements; they want nothing to do with the planning, construction and operation of the power stations themselves. Manufacturers who want to do business with new major clients must therefore change their business model and develop competences in the fields of projection and power marketing. This requires capital and time; however, anyone who ignores this market trend will be threatened with sales problems. Manufacturers such as BP Solar, First Solar and Sunpower have already succeeded in the balancing act. In Germany, Q-Cells, for example, is working on this. One subsidiary of this East-German cell manufacturer offers photovoltaic power stations, which it equips with technology from its parent company. Another sells the energy generated there.

If manufacturers are becoming project managers at the same time, the air will get thinner for traders and system integrators; then partners will become competitors who tout for the same customers. However, classic project managers are not without a chance: One possible survival strategy would be to form a coalition with powerful partners. Juwi already cooperates with public utility companies – perhaps soon with corporations like Eon as well.


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