German PV roars on
Germany's Network Agency has announced the PV installation figures for August, confirming that the country remains on course to greatly exceed the government's target corridor of 2.5-3.5 gigawatts per year. Nonetheless, proponents of solar – including our German sister publication – ignore this continued success, complaining instead that the market is being cut in half.
"Photovoltaics continues to grow slowly in Germany" – thus begins the German report on the installation figures from August at our sister publication, Erneuerbare Energien. In August, 10,109 new solar arrays with a total capacity of 291.6 megawatts were installed, the lowest level since March.
The solar sector is understandably, but somewhat selfishly, complaining about the market collapsing this year. Germany has installed 2.4 gigawatts and is on course to exceed the maximum in the government's target corridor of 3.5 gigawatts – but no matter, we had 7.5 gigawatts per year for the past three years. My colleague puts it differently, however, in the German report, claiming that installations are "roughly within the government's growth corridor" – whereas, in fact, 3.6 gigawatts clearly exceeds the maximum target. Of course, folks in other countries, where targets are simultaneously ceilings, would be thrilled to have a policy framework that continues even after targets have been met.
The pain that all of these installers must be feeling is understandable; after all, their business is being cut in half overnight. Nonetheless, the question is what the energy transition needs going forward. Germany had nearly 34.8 gigawatts installed at the end of August and is on course to hit 36 gigawatts this year. No other country has anywhere close to that much PV relative to peak summer demand, which is no more than 70 gigawatts in Germany and can drop closer to 50 on holidays and weekends. The effect repeatedly makes itself felt in low and negative prices on the power exchange, as we recently reported. The result is unprofitability among conventional power firms. Shortsighted supporters of renewables rejoice at the outcome, but municipals are also being hit – and I am not the only one concerned about backup capacity.
At present, German feed-in tariffs for solar (the country uses feed-in tariffs for all renewables, not just PV) drop automatically by 1.8 percentage points, but if the country remains between 3-4 gigawatts of PV per year, those automatic productions dropped to 1.2 percentage points per month. The current feed-in tariffs for systems installed in October 2013 range from 14.27 cents (systems more than 10 kW) to 9.88 cents (from 1 to 10 MW). Certainly, as the German PV sector complains about slower growth, the low prices are worth celebrating, especially since they are obviously still large enough for us to continue building faster than the government wishes. (Sven Ullrich / Craig Morris)