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Winfried Hoffmann (President at EPIA): "PV will offer every European citizen the chance to become a prosumer"

Interviews > Winfried Hoffmann, President at EPIA

Winfried Hoffmann "PV will offer every European citizen the chance to become a prosumer"

What are your main goals for the EPIA organization since your appointment?

EPIA is committed to helping build markets for solar photovoltaic, to continuing the technological evolution that is making PV a mainstream energy source, and to helping regulators understand the importance of policies that allow us achieve our energy, environmental and economic goals.
Solar PV has just had another record year -- with more than 28 GW of new grid-connected capacity globally in 2011. Today the industry faces major challenges even as our technology approaches competitiveness with conventional electricity sources. In the coming years, we will need to work to create new markets and business models for PV. We will also need to make sure that European policymakers understand the importance of maintaining a stable regulatory environment and of markets based on principles of free and fair trade and fair competition principles. As EPIA’s new President, I look forward to addressing these challenges and helping guide our industry into a bright and sustainable future.

What have been the main conclusions after EPIA´s annual meeting in Brussels?

That the PV market is strong and still has great potential but that it faces one or two years in which new challenges will arise. At a time of economic crisis, governments are naturally struggling with budgetary concerns and rethinking public support schemes; private financing is also less certain, with investors who are nervous and banks that are reluctant to lend. Companies will have to find new markets and new business models to adapt to these changing realities. Policy and regulatory stability – Feed-in tariffs that are phased out gradually rather than abruptly – will be more important than ever. We can’t stop support so dramatically now that solar PV is so close to competitiveness with conventional electricity sources. We also need governments to remove bureaucratic obstacles to PV deployment – a cost-effective way to promote the uptake of the technology.

What is the point of view of EPIA and its members in relation to the new regulations affecting Spain and Germany´s FIT´s?

The developments in Germany and Spain (and elsewhere in Europe) have vividly illustrated how tinkering with the Feed-in Tariff can steer the development of industry segments – for good or for ill. Too much in one direction and you can kill off a segment. But if you properly manage the FiTs, reduce them gradually, you help bring competitiveness closer. Look at the recent changes in Germany, which has shown the political will to promote the residential sector; the FiT level for that segment is still reasonable while unfortunately the one for large systems was reduced too much.
Few could have predicted the speed at which the technology has advanced and its costs have come down over the past decade; even fewer would have said that PV would be approaching competitiveness with conventional electricity across a range of market segments. Yet here we are, close to competitiveness. That’s why the decisions in some countries to abruptly halt support come as such a shock to the system.
No one believes that PV support schemes should last forever – or even for much longer – and everyone knows that these need to be smart, sustainable and properly adapted to changing market conditions. However, this does not mean that they should be reduced all of a sudden to unsustainable levels.

Do you consider that self-sufficient systems could become the future of Photovoltaic installations?

If by self-sufficient systems you mean those where most of the energy is consumed on site or in the low-voltage area, then the answer is yes. This will require a commitment to new incentives for decentralised storage or demand-side management, and to additional network services that contribute to network stabilityAs we have shown in our recent study “Solar Photovoltaics Competing in the Energy Sector – On the road to competitiveness,” before the end of this decade PV will offer every European citizen the chance to become a “prosumer,” producing and consuming his or her own decentralised source of electricity at a competitive price. This empowerment of individuals is at the heart of the decentralised nature of PV – a source of electricity you can produce where you use it – and should be a key component of Europe’s energy future.

How can this be developed and the concept to be sold to the various government regulators?

It’s a question of devising new kinds of support in the post Feed-in Tariff world. As I mentioned above, these could include demand-side management or decentralized storage. In our upcoming EPIA report on grid integration we will show how PV can be a major part of Europe’s energy mix without requiring massive investments in new infrastructure or creating unnecessary burdens on regulators or utilities. These prioirites will be important if governments want to achieve their ambitious and necessary climate goals, and also to ensure security of energy supply into the future.

What strategies should be implemented by Europe to compete with the Chinese PV manufacturing capabilities?

Europe has been the world leader in producing and deploying solar PV energy on a commercial scale but is now facing increased competition in the production sector from other regions in the world as the industry globalizes. Today, the EU must develop a real industrial policy that would encourage and strengthen further local investments. Europe needs a strong industrial base to remain competitive in the global economy.
That requires some sector-specific measures aimed at maintaining and developing a competitive local manufacturing base: a favorable long-term policy framework for renewable energies; dedicated support for investments in the manufacturing industry; a strong commitment to continued innovation; improved access to financing; greater use of standardization; and ambitious policy to develop skills and competencies.
The EU also needs to ensure the development of markets based on principles of free and fair trade and fair competition principles in order to ensure full reciprocity at international level.

What areas of R+D innovations should PV industry strengthen efforts?

EPIA strongly supports an increased budget for R&D and innovation in solar PV energy in the EU. The priority should be the financing of the Solar Europe Industrial Initiative in the context of the next multi-annual financial framework (and notably through the Horizon 2020 instrument) in order to attract companies to maintain and create new high-volume production in Europe. Specifically, we need more emphasis on R&D in components – not just modules and inverters but also the balance-of-system components that will become increasingly important for European industry.

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