PV-Symposium: From Efficiency to All-Arounders

Event Report – March 01, 2024 | Sarah Hommel de Mendonça

From February 27–29, 2024, the PV industry of the German-speaking countries met up for the 39th PV-Symposium in Bad Staffelstein in Germany.

Topics included technical innovations in PV and in the related areas of energy storage, e-mobility and smart grids. It became clear that the combinations made possible by modern components that support sector coupling offer an increasing number of possibilities for achieving a new energy system architecture dominated by renewables.

Managing the energy transition – with products from Europe?

At the opening ceremony of the PV-Symposium, the topic of European PV production was raised during the panel discussion – Jörg Ebel, German Solar Association (BSW-Solar), Rainer Stowasser, SolarNord AG, and Ralf Preu, Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, all agreed that the establishment of a local manufacturing industry remains necessary for Europe to achieve the energy transition. “It’s all about resilience, not competition,” Jörg Ebel from BSW-Solar commented on the fact that over 95 percent of PV components for the European market still come from China, while European products have struggled to compete since the recent drop in panel prices.

The industry is concerned about the government’s lack of resolve to finally enforce much-needed CapEx and OpEx subsidy initiatives for production lines. “We need to stimulate the market in such a way that it booms,” Rainer Stowasser stated. With SolarNord AG, Stowasser plans to build a vertically integrated production facility in Lower Saxony, Germany, which is expected to quickly reach a capacity of 5 gigawatts (GW) at all production levels, from module to polysilicon production, and which can be expanded even further.

Innovations in solar cells

According to Stowasser, in order to achieve such developments in Europe, production must incorporate the most promising and most innovative technologies. Prof. Dr. Holger Neuhaus from Fraunhofer ISE vividly illustrated how PERC cells, which are currently dominating the market, will be pushed out by TOPCon cells within the next two years. Heterojunction (HJT) cells will maintain a market share, while IBC cells will remain a niche product.

The development of tandem solar cells with two different semiconductors is eagerly awaited – and with it the industrial use of perovskite. Perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells promise efficiencies of over 30 percent – manufacturer LONGi even achieved a record 33.9 percent in its laboratory. Neuhaus is expecting that these novel cell types will start pushing into the market in 2026. In China, however, three manufacturers are already producing perovskite with capacities of around 100 megawatts (MW). “As the current situation allows for few research projects, Europe could fall behind in the latest technology. What’s more, researchers in Germany can’t get components made in Europe because there’s no local production,” Neuhaus warned.

Breakthrough expected for grid-forming inverters with BESS

SMA Solar Technology AG's presentation of the breakthrough in grid-forming inverters combined with battery energy storage systems (BESS) made a big impression. In an energy system dominated by renewable energies, grid-forming inverters increasingly include frequency stabilization and voltage compensation functions – up to now, these functions have mostly been performed by synchronous machines in large thermal power plants. SMA supplied grid-forming inverters for two pilot projects in Scotland. With a capacity of 300 MW/600 MWh after its completion, the Blackhillock storage project will be one of the largest in the UK, and a global pioneer in the provision of grid stability services through grid-connected battery storage systems. At the PV-Symposium, Dr. Boris Fischer, SMA, explained that “BESS combined with grid-forming and programmable inverters can provide grid stability services at an even lower cost than synchronous machines. When planning large BESS, incentives need to be placed on their versatile use, since they can be used to perform energy arbitrage as well as to provide operating reserves and stability services. For these functions, power electronics and storage systems need to be scaled up, which requires financial incentives for project designers.”

Other trends in Bad Staffelstein: HEMS and AI

Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) are a hot topic right now, including at the PV-Symposium. They enable a relatively efficient combination of home energy system devices such as PV systems (producers), residential storage systems, e-cars, heat pumps and even heating elements, and can optimize the self-consumption of self-generated electricity. Thomas Haupt from the Ansbach University of Applied Sciences gave an impressive overview of the functions of 26 of the 42 commercially available HEMS. A setting that allows for a combination between the use of variable electricity tariffs and the optimization of self-consumption is highly anticipated by customers.

The increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the solar industry also made the rounds at the PV-Symposium: Siemens presented the Siemens Xcelerator, an energy management system for monitoring utility-scale power plants. The Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) showcased their AI-based forecast solution for grid providers in Bad Staffelstein. The solution checks the status of the grid and provides generation forecasts for Redispatch 2.0, the targeted shutdown of generation units to protect the grid from overloading.

Next year’s PV-Symposium will once again take place in Bad Staffelstein, Germany, from March 11–13, 2025, to discuss the latest trends and innovations of the solar industry.

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