Intersolar Europe Conference – Day 1 Highlights

The world’s largest solar Exhibition cum conference, Intersolar Europe, was inaugurated on 17 June 2013 in Munich.The weather was fantastic and the enthusiasm palpable.

The venue – Messe Muenchen, Germany

This week long annual event is taking place against the backdrop of increasing trade related disputes across the globe and declining PV growth in Europe. While the number of exhibitors and the visitors to the event are expected to be lesser than the previous years, reflecting the turmoil in the industry, the excitement was intact. In fact, the solar market is moving more downstream, with a huge focus on energy storage technologies and non-Feed-in-Tariff(FiT) based business models.
The first day of the conference had 3 segments – Global PV markets, Energy Storage and PV Technology. Some of the highlights of each segment is given below.
Global PV markets
In this segment, experts from across the globe spoke about the solar markets in different geographies. More specifically, the European(Germany and others), Asian(Japan, China and India) and American(North and South) markets were analysed.
In 2012, the global total installed capacity crossed 100 GW. Annual Installations EU market was down to 17 GW from 22.4 GW in 2011. On the other hand, Asia grew fast  mainly propelled by installations of 5 GW in China, 2 GW in Japan in 2012 and about 1 GW in India. The US is also an important market, with installations of 3.3 GW in 2012. Canada and Latin American countries like Brazil, Chile and Mexico also have long term potential for solar growth.
The key takeaway was that though the growth trends in different markets vary, PV growth is moving away from EU to Asia and onto Americas.
One another important trend has been the waning policy support which makes it important to evolve from a Feed-in-Tariff(FiT) market to new business models. In Germany, there is also more self-consumption of PV power and direct sale of power to consumers in the distribution grid than exporting to grid under the FiT scheme.
Energy Storage
The increase in penetration of PV and wind has caused grid-integration issues and is necessitating the promotion of energy storage technologies. Battery can also help in enabling smart grid functionalities and for off-grid applications. Germany has taken the lead in supporting energy storage by providing incentives from 1 May 2013 for systems using battery storage upto 30kWp.
In terms of Battery storage market, experts predict that PV energy storage market could cross $25 billion in 2017 from about $ 5 billion in 2013. The major growth drivers for energy storage differ from market segment to segment.  The major growth driver for each segment is as follows.
–          Self-consumption for Residential segment
–          Avoiding peak charges & electricity rates for Commercial segment
–          Meeting regulatory requirements for Utility scale segment
–          Sheer Necessity for Off-grid segment
The major barrier to the widespread adoption of energy storage continues to be the high battery prices. According to one of the speakrs, residential PV energy storage system prices are predicted to fall by 35% in 2017. In India, grid level battery storage can be used not only for solar power shifting/peak shaving, but also for frequency regulation.
When it comes to electrochemical storage technologies, the following technologies are currently dominant.
–          Lead based
–          Nickel based
–          Lithium based
–          Sodium based
–          Vanadium-redox-flow
While Lead based technologies are used widely, Lithium based batteries are set to gain market share by displacing Lead-acid batteries.
PV Technology
PV manufacturers are under constant pressure to reduce PV cost. Materials still contribute a major cost in the PV module and the first session focused on some of the cost reduction possibilities were discussed.
According to experts, Poly-Si prices expected to remain flat in 2013 but margins will remain under pressure. Silver paste, one of the key materials used in PV modules, is costly but right now, there is no other alternative to Silver. However the amount of silver used has been reducing gradually over the past few years. Some of the advances in Anti-reflective coating were highlighted and importance of backsheets was stressed. Backsheets typically cost only about 2-4% of module cost, but influences lifetime of the module.
The clear message was that the critical factors for cost reduction will be scale and technical differentiation.
PV Production equipment
The fortunes of PV Production equipment is closely interlinked to the solar demand. Production equipment sales were very high in 2010 and 2011. But now, the market has nosedived due to the excess production capacity and the resulting consolidation. Book-to-bill ratio reflects the downturn in the equipment market. 2013 is expected to be a grim year, but 2014 might bring some relief. Some of the latest innovations in Copper plating equipment, advances in automation and some of the technologies to improve cell efficiencies were highlighted in the event.
PS: A more detailed report on the inauguration session of the conference can be found at the Intersolar India website here.
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