Top Trends in PV Technology and Applications

Expert Interview, PV-Symposium Freiburg – July 05, 2022

The annual PV-Symposium brings together key players from the solar industry, who present and discuss the current trends and provide a progress report on research in the field of photovoltaics. This year, the event was driven by the positive market development being seen at the moment.

In our interview with the Technical Lead for the PV-Symposium 2022, Prof. Dr. Andreas Bett from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, we explored the topics set to be most relevant in PV over the next few years and discussed the challenges associated with the expansion of solar power.

What were the key topics at this year’s PV-Symposium? What are the current trends and developments on the PV market in Germany specifically?

Prof. Dr. Andreas Bett: I think the short answer here is that we are at a point in time – partly due to the framework conditions, the new German government and the war in Ukraine – when there has been another big boost in the interest in and the need for the further expansion of solar energy. That applies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. We’re seeing high demand and widespread interest in the development of PV technology. That’s the most important thing, if you ask me.

The atmosphere at the event was incredible, with people really appreciating these hugely beneficial opportunities to network in person and talk to others again after such a long pandemic-enforced break. It seemed to me that the feeling of positivity was stronger than it has been within the PV industry for longer than I care to remember. Of course, we had no choice but to also address the major challenges that are bound to come up, such as satisfying the demand given the current situation.

What were the main technology trends and applications coming to the fore once again at this event?

Prof. Dr. Andreas Bett: I’d say we tried to focus on a few central themes in the event program, especially the challenges facing the industry as a result of increased demand and growth. An example is the availability and supply of components. That’s an important issue for sure. Overall, I couldn’t help but notice that the attendees were optimistic that they could resolve the issues that inevitably await. I’d say that’s a very positive message to send out. People are excited about growth and market stability. And yet we can’t ignore the challenges. Staffing shortages and a lack of installation expertise are just two examples.

Then there’s the components, like I already mentioned. In the wider context, we have also discussed ideas for starting up production in Europe again and the fact that there is a need for it at this point. We introduced a few other new topics that were also discussed at great length. And they were all to do with urban settings: How can PV be rolled out to the districts? What are the problems when it’s decentralized? Then there’s the question of how to feed it into the grid and make the best use of the photovoltaic solar electricity generated locally, including in combination with green roofs and the topic I’ve always found absolutely fascinating to shine a light on. What is the role of PV in urban settings? This is an important topic because there are still so many unanswered questions. But the conference once again did an excellent job of confirming that PV is most definitely a positive development in towns and cities. It doesn’t cause temperatures to rise but does have plenty of benefits to offer.

And we also have our standard topics that always come up. Quality assurance. It’s become something of a tradition at the PV-Symposium. I’d say the conference reiterated just how important it is for our community to focus on quality assurance – especially during a period of growth. Unfortunately, quality can sometimes suffer when things are moving at a fast pace to keep up with high demand. I have the impression that the community is very aware of this fact, which can only be positive given that we need exceptionally high standards.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges associated with growth in photovoltaics in Germany over the next few years?

Prof. Dr. Andreas Bett: I think the main challenges to start with will be maintaining sufficient staffing levels and keeping up with demand. We’re also hearing that waiting times for prosumer systems in particular can be up to months in some cases. That’s bound to cause some disappointment and frustration but is likely to be the reality of the situation. And we’re only going to see an increase in inquiries in line with our positive market growth. And there will be knock-on effects on the supply chain and logistics too because everything is interlinked. We’re not just talking about modules here. We also need the right inverters. And battery storage systems usually for prosumers too. Coordinating the logistics of all that is bound to be a challenge. But, like I said before, attendees at the symposium were optimistic that they’ll be able to manage it all.

It’s also worth mentioning integrated photovoltaics again since it’s a hot topic. Building integrated photovoltaics in particular. There’s plenty of positivity and optimism here too. I think we could speed up implementation a bit, but we need the regulatory framework to change too to accelerate the market entry process. Or make it easier by cutting back on the red tape. But we’re seeing decent progress being made here too.

So you’re saying that you’re currently optimistic about changes to the regulatory framework, the political framework conditions?

Prof. Dr. Andreas Bett: At the very least, I’m hopeful that it has been recognized and work is currently ongoing. I wish it could have perhaps all gone a little bit more quickly. But I’m a firm believer that patience is a virtue. What really matters is that the regulatory hurdles in our way are being recognized on many levels and there is a realization that action needs to be taken. The many challenges involved in removing these hurdles are complex. But it’s down to our government to do something effective so that we can make faster progress with fewer hurdles to overcome. I’m cautiously optimistic that, like I said before, the government at least wants to address this now.

Intersolar Europe was around a month ago and now the PV-Symposium is over too. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what the main discrepancies are between the current situation on the European market and what is relevant right now for Germany.

Prof. Dr. Andreas Bett: To start with, Intersolar is more of a consumer-facing event, while the PV-Symposium has a strong science and research focus. Of course, the two are closely linked when it comes to the requirements we just discussed, the components and all the other areas. Looking beyond the borders of Germany and our specialist area (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) – just think of the EU with its Green Deal – you can see a global trend, with demand and the transformation of our energy system picking up pace across Europe. That means overall demand will soar.

With that in mind, I’m convinced that we should be looking at supply chains across Europe, for example, and encouraging significant change to the regulatory framework at the European level too. For instance, we need to think about standards and connections for building integrated photovoltaics. This even differs across regions in Germany as it stands. By standardizing this, we could remove some of the barriers. We need to do this in Germany, Austria and Switzerland – but also across the whole of Europe. That means something needs to happen at a European level. But I predict this evolving because we need to forge ahead with the energy transition in Europe.

We’re seeing a global need for photovoltaics. Lots of activities are starting up at the moment in India, including in the area of production. And the Indian government is creating the framework conditions to ensure that the domestic market can expand significantly and so can the production output. China has also just announced that it plans to add significantly more photovoltaics over the next year. That means photovoltaics will be expanded globally, which will put us back in competition for resources and modules, components and so on. At that point it will come down to one question: Who can deliver quickly enough? So we can say that this is a global trend, especially considering that the same thing is happening in the USA. There is no doubt that we are being spurred on by the climate change we’re encountering every day.

Can you share your overall thoughts on the event?

Prof. Dr. Andreas Bett: First of all, it was fantastic that we could get together in person and actually speak face to face. It was proof that we have a vibrant local research community driving us forward with practical innovation. That’s exactly what we need right now if you ask me. The challenges we’re facing need to be tackled with plenty of positivity and enthusiasm. People are fully committed to making this happen. The scientific takeaways from the conference fill me with great hope and optimism for the future.

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