What 2013 holds in store for solar power and heat
This year, the solar industry expects less policy support and a greater focus on direct consumption of solar power – as opposed to exporting power to the grid. In addition, Europe will become less important as Asia and North America continue to grow. And what does the new year hold in store for solar thermal?
According to the latest estimates (official figures are not yet in), Germany installed 7.630 gigawatts of photovoltaics last year – more than a quarter of the global market, which market researchers at Trend Force (Taiwan) put at 29.7 gigawatts for last year. Although there was no rush in December, the market nonetheless raced in the fall to complete ground-mounted solar arrays larger than 10 megawatts, which are no longer eligible for feed-in tariffs.
Italy, the world's second biggest PV market last year, also only has a budget for 800 megawatts this year. To make things worse, production capacity still outstrips demand by a wide margin. As a result, prices fell by 25-30 percent in 2012, putting pressure on revenue and profits. Overall, 2012 was a year of consolidation in the photovoltaic sector, and consolidation will continue this year. Trend Force expects manufacturers of solar cells to have the hardest time this year, but inverter manufacturers also face a tough time.
Nonetheless, manufacturers and product developers are optimistic about the new year. After all, new markets are opening up, especially in North America and Asia. Margins will continue to be small, so profits will have to come from greater revenue. In Europe, the sector is receiving indirect help from energy providers themselves, who continue to raise power prices – thereby making solar power more competitive with power from the grid. In Germany, solar power now costs around nine cents less than power from the grid per kilowatt-hour even from the smallest roof arrays. And what is happening in Germany will spread to other countries over the next few years.
Will the world follow Germany's example and focus more on direct consumption from small roof arrays, or will the focus remain on utility-scale PV, as in the United States? And if Germany begins focusing more on direct consumption, solar arrays will increasingly be dimensioned to suit power consumption within the building – not the size of the roof.
In contrast, little has changed for solar thermal. In 2013, it will still be hard to sell small, complicated, expensive systems. The sector's goal is to simplify systems and make systems as large as possible when they have to become complex. Too little attention is still paid on process heat and solar cooling. Manufacturers of heat pumps expect greater sales this year, but this sector is especially dependent upon the construction sector and therefore does not have full control of its own business. (Sven Ullrich / Craig Morris)
Next week, we will publish a survey of top industry executives who took part in a survey conducted by Renewables International's solar expert Heiko Schwarzburger.