Reducing Solar-Generated Energy Costs Key Focus at European Conference

Researchers, industry representatives and politicians from 94 countries attended the 21st European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition last week. Held in Germany September 4 – 8, the conference covered political framework conditions, research and development at the European level, and ways of achieving cost reductions and global market developments.

Dr. Winfried Hoffmann, President of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and general manager of SCHOTT Solar GmbH, highlighted the latest developments in the solar industry. Of the 1.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy capacity newly installed last year, 600 megawatts (MW) were in Germany, where the industry generated sales of around Euro 3 billion [US$3.8 billion] and created 30,000 jobs. Although cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of generated electricity has been cut in half since 1990, Dr. Hoffman noted that solar-generated electricity remains more expensive than electricity generated from conventional sources such as oil, gas and uranium. “In five to ten years, solar-generated electricity for peak power will have become economically viable in the liberalized energy markets of Southern countries,” said Dr. Hoffmann. “In the North, it will take an additional ten years to reach that point.” Against the backdrop of a sharp rise in electricity consumption worldwide — with experts forecasting a doubling today’s 17,000 terawatt hours by 2040 — Dr. Hoffmann stated that solar-generated electricity is the only real option. Another key focus at the conference was the global development of the photovoltaics (PV) sector, which has been largely determined by China’s entry as a provider. Frank Haugwitz of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) noted at the conference that China places great emphasis on rural electrification. Following a pilot project which ran from 1999 – 2002, local electricity supplies for 400,000 people in 721 villages were set up between 2002 and 2004 with an investment of Euro 200 million [US$254 million], as part of a “Township-Programme.” During the present plan period, 2006-2010, an allocation of Euro 3.2 billion [US$4 billion] has already been made for investment in rural electrification, said Haugwitz. Up to the end of 2005, solar energy installations with a capacity of around 70 MW were installed in China. By comparison, Germany’s installation capacity was 1,508 MW at the end of last year. Unlike China, Japan intends to primarily use solar energy to cover domestic demand. Despite the large domestic market, the majority of Japan’s production volume is exported. At the end of 2004, production capacity for photovoltaic systems in Japan amounted to 800 megawatt-peak (MWp). As Dr. Hoffmann of SCHOTT Solar explained in another speech, around 450 MWp of this was exported. Richard King, from the U.S. Department of Energy, presented the current U.S. promotion policy to the PV Industry Forum. The budget for measures in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources amounts to $771 million. Funds for the Solar Energies Technologies Program will rise from around $85 million in 2005 and 2006 to an estimated $148 million in 2007. It is hoped that by promoting the industry in this way, the original goal of reducing solar energy costs from 5-10 U.S. Cents per kWh by 2020 can be achieved as early as 2015 instead, said King.
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