Germany’s euro 1 billion package for solar projects in India coincides with research in its institutes to develop a new generation of semi-conductors to replace silicon. This can increase the conversion efficiency (from solar irradiation to electrical energy) of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, reducing the land requirement in countries such as India. German business is also keen on exploring India as a market for LNG.

Peter Hohaus, Policy Advisor, Political Affairs and Corporate Communications, E.ON, a gas supplier in Europe which has a tie-up with Gazprom, has expressed interest in this regard. Hohaus also said that despite the tensions over Ukraine, gas supply to Europe had not been affected. A

Berlin-based energy expert added that talks were still on supply of Russian gas through Greece, besides active efforts to stream gas through the ‘South Steam’ and ‘Nord Stream’ routes.

“The situation with respect to Russia is not as bad as what the media would have us believe,” Hohaus explained. With China having emerged as the largest manufacturer of solar PVs, Germany hopes to sell integrated assembly lines for the manufacture of PVs. This could include thin-film solar technologies, being worked upon as an alternative to the silicon-based solar PVs.

Chinese competition “China’s large scale and low-cost manufacture of solar PVs has driven almost all German PV makers out of business,” said Craig Morris, a journalist and writer on energy issues. “Solar PVs are low technology stuff, like making radios, so it was not surprising that this would happen,” he said.

The Stuttgart-based Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW), which gets its funds from industry, and the State and federal governments, is working on increasing the conversion efficiency of thin-film solar cells. ZSW claims to have created a record in conversion efficiency – of 21.7 per cent in the case of cells made out of copper indium gallium diselenide. It is trying to increase this rate.

Researchers at ZSW said that this would further reduce the cost of solar PVs, but expressed worries over the intellectual property rights regime in China. A technology switch from silicon to other semi-conductors may prove costly and time consuming for China, some researchers said.

Addressing presspersons at Stuttgart recently, Gerhard Stryi-Hipp, Head of Energy Policy at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, said that quality control issues in India needed to be sorted out. “Existing PV production lines must be renewed and new production lines must have new technology,” he said.

“A good return on investment can only be achieved if the PV system is working for 20 years with only minor degradation,” Stryi-Hipp added.

Stryi-Hipp said there should be more clarity on intellectual property rights, feed in tariff conditions and the terms of finance for German investment in solar to pick up. Fraunhofer is involved in yield assessment, performance checking and plant certification. According to Markus Steigenberger, Deputy Executive Director, Agora Energiewende, India’s main challenge in solar installation lies in circumventing “system costs” such as land acquisition, with panel costs having fallen sharply. Skytron Energy, which manufactures control panels for solar installations, says that the Indian grid operators as well as the industry will have to take into account “frequency, voltage and stability”, since flexibility in output will increase with the rise in the component of weather-dependent technologies such as wind and solar.

Grid operators in Germany rely on weather forecasting to deal with deficits, in which event coal-based power and gas can act as balancers. Hohaus also sees gas playing an important role as a balancer in Europe.

The writer was recently in Germany on a visit sponsored by Clean Energy Wire