Bioenergy, Geothermal, Solar

Forty megawatts of PV: A new thin-film solar installation under construction in eastern Germany is set to put others in the shade

Issue 3 and Volume 10.

In the Saxony region of Germany, a new ground-based PV plant is being developed which, once finished, will be one of the largest photovoltaic installations in the world, and by far the largest to use thin-film technology. Christian Hinsch explains.

Based in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the juwi group has just started construction of the world’s biggest photovoltaic (PV) power plant at a former military air base near Leipzig in Saxony. Called ‘Waldpolenz’, and due to be completed by the end of 2009, the new development is a 40 MW thin-film solar power plant, one of several PV power plants the juwi group is currently installing across Europe and the rest of the world.

Once finished, the 40 MW installation will cover around 110 hectares near the town of Brandis, roughly half of the site available. ‘The surface area of the PV installation compares to about 200 soccer fields,’ says juwi Co-managing Director Matthias Willenbacher. During the construction about 100 people, mostly from the local area, will be employed, while once operation begins, several juwi staff will be responsible for the management, servicing and maintenance of the installation.


A computer images of the 40 MW Walpolenz site with items shown for scale

The Waldpolenz project is a milestone for the juwi group and indeed for photovoltaic technology in general. Altogether, the investment in the new solar park will amount to some €130 million. This translates to a cost of approximately €3250/kW making the plant 20%-40% cheaper than the standard market price in Germany. ‘Large-scale projects such as these make a huge contribution to making solar electricity more competitive,’ says juwi co-founder Willenbacher.

Not far away, another of juwi’s PV power plants – Rote Jahne – went into operation at the end of March 2007. It has an installed capacity of 6 MW, cost around €21 million to develop, and is currently the world’s biggest PV installation using thin-film technology. The modules were supplied by US company First Solar – as will be the case at the much larger Waldpolenz facility. The two projects were made possible by outstanding support on location. ‘There are very few contiguous areas of this kind and size in Germany. We thank all whose great idealism and commitment made these projects possible,’ adds Willenbacher.

The juwi group’s philosophy is to produce solar-generated electricity at competitive prices (independently of support schemes) as soon as possible. Willenbacher points out that ‘with the installations at Waldpolenz and Rote Jahne, juwi is demonstrating that photovoltaics no longer face any limits. Very soon everyone will be able to actively contribute toward withdrawal from nuclear energy and a climate-changing, fossil-based power supply – by simply switching to solar energy.’ He added: ‘that fosters independence, secures local jobs, preserves the environment and is easy on your wallet’.


The nearby Rote Jahne 6 MW photovoltaic power plant

Alongside the development and licensing phases of the two projects, the juwi group, along with Sachsen Landesbank, put together a professional equity capital and external financing scheme. SachsenFonds GmbH – a closed-end fund marketing and administration company within the Sachsen Landesbank Group – will offer equity to interested investors in the form of closed-end funds, beginning in the summer of 2007. The structured project financing will be provided by Sachsen Landesbank. ‘The expertise of the Sachsen Landesbank Group in its strategic business area of funding alternative energy projects was a major motivation for us to give the financing mandate to the Sachsen Landesbank Group,’ says Fred Jung, also co-CEO and co-founder of the juwi group.

Global developer

Once fully operational, Waldpolenz will produce around 40 million kWh of clean power a year, saving the emission of 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The direct current produced in the solar modules will be converted into alternating current and fed completely into the power grid. After just one year the plant will have ‘paid-back’ the energy needed to build it.

‘Construction of the world’s biggest plant of this kind is a real challenge for a medium-sized enterprise like the juwi group,’ emphasizes Willenbacher. As well as the logistical hurdles, the management of the entire project – from preparing the land, through buying the components to connecting to the grid – can’t be compared with fitting a solar array on a family home. ‘In Brandis (Waldpolenz) we’re building on an area of more than a million square metres. By contrast, most house roofs, for example, comprise only 40 to 50 square metres,’ said Willenbacher.

Despite these hurdles the company has so far proved that it is up to the task. Indeed, juwi solar GmbH, the juwi group’s solar energy subsidiary, has several years’ experience in realising large-scale solar projects and looks likely to continue achieving three-digit growth in the coming years, both in Germany and abroad. ‘To realise further projects juwi solar is therefore always interested in suitable roof space and vacant land in high-sunshine areas,’ says Lars Falck, CEO of juwi solar GmbH.


By 2012 juwi solar GmbH is plans to install up to 1000 MW of photovoltaic systems in Germany, Spain, Italy, France, the USA, Korea and many other countries. One of these developments, in Rwanda, is expected to be Africa’s biggest PV power plant, and is due to be completed by the summer of 2007. Located near Kigali, the system will consist of a 250 kW power plant provided by the municipality of the city of Mainz, capital of Rhineland Palatinate. For the last 25 years, there has been a close partnership between the south-western federal state of Germany and the country in Central Africa.

An important partner in the African project, as well as in the Leipzig developments, is the world’s leading thin-film specialist, First Solar, which like, juwi follows the philosophy of rapid market introduction of solar power. First Solar is supplying the modules for all these solar power parks. Most of the approximately 550,000 modules used in Waldpolenz will be produced in the German town of Frankfurt-on-Oder, the location of the world’s biggest and most modern manufacturer of thin-film modules. ‘Thin-film modules have long since reached series maturity, are cheaper to produce than crystalline modules, are higher-yielding and above all are not affected by scarcities of and dependency on raw material,’ emphasises Falck.

Conclusion

Projects like the 40 MW Waldpolenz system prove that PV power can play an important part in the energy mix. ‘With the climate changing and resources shrinking we don’t need new coal-fired power stations or longer nuclear power production – wind, sun and other renewables can keep Germany supplied quickly, safely, independently and durably,’ stresses juwi CEO Willenbacher.


250 kW array under construction in Rwanda

For example, to supply 10% of the state of Saxony’s annual power demand from PV installations, some two billion kilowatt-hours of solar power a year would have to be produced. The area needed to generate this amount of power would be around 4000 hectares. That corresponds to merely 2% of the developed and traffic-related areas (e.g. parking lots, acoustic protection walls on streets and railway tracks etc.) of Saxony. ‘These figures show that solar power can make a big contribution to generating climate-friendly energy,’ says Falck.

Together with the other renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, biomass and geothermal, it is possible to build an environmentally friendly, safe, independent and stably priced energy supply system – even for a modern, industrial country like Germany.

Christian Hinsch is Head of Marketing and Relations at juwi in Germany
e-mail: [email protected]