“Download the Sun”- German American Solar Energy Conference in New York
Deputy Consul General Oliver Schnakenberg at the German American Solar Energy Conference
“Fossil resources have an end, some even sooner than we think. The sun, on the other hand, will shine for billions of years and still be available for the next generation. So download the sun!” With this appeal, Werner Koldehoff, Member of the Advisory Board of the German Solar Industry Association, concluded his opening presentation at the German American Solar Energy Conference at New York’s John Jay College on March 13. Hosted by the German American Chamber of Commerce and funded by the German Government’s German Export Initiative,120 attendees came to meet with a delegation of German solar energy companies to discuss opportunities for cooperation in the U.S. solar markets.
The conference’s main goal was to bring together German and US solar company representatives to discuss the latest developments in the industry and how the German solar sector compares to the American one. From a business perspective, German-American solar collaboration has great potential. The German solar industry has experienced an unprecedented boom: incentivized by feed-in tariffs under the Renewable Energies Act (EEG), last year the newly-installed photovoltaics (PV) capacity reached 7,500 megawatts, pushing the installed PV capacity to a total of 24,800 megawatts. Since, at the same time, the prices of solar panels and other costs have fallen rapidly, the German Government is planning to scale back on subsidizing the feed-in of solar energy into the grid. On the U.S. side, solar energy still accounts for only a tiny fraction of the country’s electricity generation. In 2011, the U.S. installed 1,855 megawatts of solar capacity with the total solar-power generating capacity reaching just over 4,400 megawatts.
According to Hartmut Grewe, Senior Project Manager of Energiewaechter GmbH, a consulting service in the area of renewable energies, feed-in tariffs were the real game-changer in Germany. It’s all because feed-in tariffs brought down the price not only for high tech (solar cells), but also for low tech (installation systems) in private hands, he pointed out. However, as participants mentioned, in the U.S. uncertainty looms over government support for clean energies, especially for solar power. Official support is largely being channeled in the form of tax credits and other incentives and mandates that spur solar investment by utilities, thus making residential and other small and medium-scale commercial projects less attractive compared to Germany.
Still, German companies are hopeful that they will tap some of the potential for improvement in the U.S. solar energy sector. Especially in New York, with its rapidly increasing power demand, overburdened infrastructure and struggle with air pollution, solar power would be a suitable solution, said Anthony Pereira, the President & CEO of altPower, Inc. in his presentation “PV in NYC”. For this reason, said Alison King, the New York City Solar Coordinator at the City University of New York, multiple “solar empowerment zones” in critical areas of New York would be established, which would benefit from advanced data monitoring, assistance with incentives, and streamlined permitting.
Oliver Schnakenberg, the Deputy Consul General, highlighted the other elements of the German Government’s long-term energy policy in his opening remarks, specifically off- and on-shore wind energy. He said the first head-on test and reality check had been passed. Although eight nuclear power plants had been taken off the grid, households and businesses didn’t suffer from any disruptions, supply shortages or power blackouts during the cold period. Now there was time, Schnakenberg said, to stabilize and expand the grid and to further increase capacities.