Intersolar 2006: Solar technology and demand at an all-time high

by Rolf Hug

The solar industry is growing rapidly and steadily – and with it in tandem also the international Intersolar Fair. With an additional 22 % exhibitors and an increase in visitors by about 21 % Intersolar 2006 was proof of the solar boom continuing. The exhibition area of this leading European solar technology fair was expanded by 50 % in comparison to the previous year; on 26 000 square metres companies from 27 countries presented new products to the international solar industry. Experts from 80 countries met in Germany’s “solar capital” Freiburg and contributed to a positive atmosphere among the exhibitors: the demand for solar technology is impressive, is the unanimous opinion of German and international companies.

Intersolar 2006: Demand for solar technology greater than ever. Intersolar 2006: Demand for solar technology greater than ever.
Intersolar 2006: Demand for solar technology greater than ever. Source: Solar Promotion GmbH

The Solar Report can look back on a fair that exceeded all expectations of the organisers – and the exhibitors. It highlights the most important trends in the sectors and gives perspectives for solar energy, solar heating and solar building.
Focus points are market development, thin-film photovoltaics, solar heating support and solar air-conditioning. We also present the spectacular project “SolarImpulse”, an aircraft driven by solar energy only that is to fly around the world in 20 days.

Similar to the photovoltaic industry that is still grappling with a temporary bottleneck in the supply of raw materials, Intersolar also has to cope with infrastructural challenges. The continuous growth of the fair demands a change of venue in 2008: the exhibition areas in Freiburg can simply not meet the demand in spite of a new hall of 8 000 square metres having been built. But also at its new location Intersolar will be jointly organised by the Freiburg Wirtschaft Touristik und Messe GmbH and the Pforzheim-based Solar Promotion GmbH. Currently Solar Promotion Managing Director Markus Elsässer, who is also the initiator of Intersolar, is evaluating the quotations obtained from reputable trade fair centres; a decision will be taken after the summer holidays.

A dynamic international market and innovative technology

The international importance of the Freiburg Fair is reflected in the growing world-wide interest: almost every third visitor was from abroad. No wonder, because the international market for solar energy technology is expected by the German Federal Association for Solar Economy (Bundesverband Solarwirtschaft - BSW) to grow from its current eight billion Euro to over 20 billion Euro in 2010. In the long term experts even consider a world market volume growth to 300 billion Euro to be possible, because of the continuous increase in prices of conventional energy sources – and the reduction in solar technology costs.

Intersolar 2006 Intersolar 2006
Dynamic markets; innovative companies: Intersolar 2006 again was an international showcase event for the solar industry. Source: Solar Promotion GmbH
The same applies to photovoltaic solar power plants where the decrease in prices has temporarily ceased according BSW Managing Director Carsten Körnig. The modular prices have reached their peak and would decrease by approximately 5 %, if not already in the next months then certainly next year. This would be ensured by international competition and the decrease in compensation for solar energy according to the renewable energy law. This reduction in compensation was received by manufacturers with increased mass production and technological advancement.
Solar thermal markets Photovoltaic markets
Solar thermal and photovoltaic markets: steep growth curves, superb perspectives. To enlarge the graphs, click on the image. Source: Solar Promotion GmbH; BSW

Every fourth solar panel is made in Germany

Germany is becoming increasingly attractive as site for the solar industry. Currently solar technology for heat and power generation is being produced in 150 factories. New solar companies are erecting their manufacturing sites mainly in Eastern Germany, especially in Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg. German photovoltaic companies are well prepared for the growth and were thus able to increase production of solar panels by 67 % in the past year and acquired a significant share in the world market. This has led to more than a quarter of all solar panels installed world-wide and more than 40 % of all inverters being made in Germany. For the current year BSW is expecting a double-digit increase in production.
Solar heat is internationally the most important source of renewable energy
The increased use of solar heating is becoming obvious: exploding heating costs made German home-owners turn to the sun as their most favoured source of warmth – a trend that can also be seen in Austria, Greece, France and Spain. According to information provided by the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation ESTIF in 2005 almost 1 400 MWth of solar thermal performance were newly installed, amounting to 26 % more than in the previous year. First figures for 2005 by the International Energy Agency prove that solar thermal power has become the leading source of renewable energy world-wide. With an installed performance of globally 115 Gigawatt it is positioned before wind energy (60 GW) and geothermal energy (10 GW).

European solar thermal market continues its growth.
European solar thermal market continues its growth (EU25+ = EU plus Switzerland). Source: ESTIF

Germany on the verge to becoming the "Solar Valley"

Currently over ten new manufacturing sites for photovoltaic thin-film technology as resources-saving alternative to silicium solar cells are being built in Germany. State-of-the-art production technology is to ensure extra-thin and thus cost-effective solar cells and solar modules on the basis of silicium and other semiconductor materials. “Germany is becoming the Solar Valley and is successfully transforming its technological leadership into growing market success. More and more core parts of solar systems are being manufactured in Germany,” says Carsten Körnig when describing activities in the sector.

New photovoltaic factory (EverQ GmbH) in Thalheim (Saxony-Anhalt). New photovoltaic factory (EverQ GmbH) in Thalheim (Saxony-Anhalt).
New photovoltaic factory (EverQ GmbH) in Thalheim (Saxony-Anhalt). Source: Evergreen Solar Inc.

During this year and the next, the companies will be investing a total of approximately 500 million Euro in the factories, e.g. Schott Solar GmbH in Jena, Odersun AG and First Solar Manufacturing GmbH in Frankfurt/Oder, Johanna Solar Technology GmbH in Brandenburg/Havel, Sulfurcell Solartechnik GmbH in Berlin, Würth Solar GmbH & Co. KG in Schwäbisch Hall and CSG Solar AG in Thalheim.

Overall the German solar sector, thus states BSW, invested approximately one billion Euro during the past year and thereby doubled its investment volume in comparison to 2004. Currently about 45 000 persons are employed in Germany for the utilisation of solar energy and, in the long run, BSW expects this figure to rise to 200 000 work places in the German solar business, generally for highly qualified persons.

Compensation for energy delivery opens new markets

With a solar boom being expected abroad in the near future and with renewable energy laws being implemented as best-practice models with similarly attractive solar energy delivery compensation as in Germany, solar companies are currently expanding their export activities, e.g. to Spain, Italy, France and Greece. With growing foreign markets in southern Europe, but also in Asia and the USA, costs of introducing photovoltaics to the market can be divided among the shoulders of numerous role players.

In Spain and the USA alone experts expect the market to grow to ten times its current size by 2010. This presents significant export opportunities for “Made in Germany” solar technology. According to information supplied by BSW, 90 percent of all manufacturers, suppliers and wholesalers are active abroad. It is the goal of the sector to double the export rate of solar cells from its current 35 percent within the next years.


Thin-film technology strengthens technology competition

One of the clearest trends noted during the Intersolar Fair and especially the experts’ day preceding the public days on which 200 experts visited the photovoltaic industry exhibition, was the drive among manufacturers to save the currently scarce and expensive raw material silicium. Silicium solar cells as well as cells from alternative semiconductor materials are becoming thinner and have now become suitable for industrial mass production. This competition for the best and most cost-effective technical solutions will in future contribute to the competitiveness of solar energy in comparison to conventional energy production.

Predicted and expected thin-film module production capacities world-wide.
Predicted and expected thin-film module production capacities world-wide. Source: B. Dimmler, Würth Solar
The industrial large-scale production of solar modules on the basis of copper-indium-diselenide (CuInSe2, in short: CIS), which the manufacturer Würth Solar is to commence in autumn 2006, is but one example of the high performance ability of the silicium option. In the Baden-Württemberg town of Schwäbisch Hall approximately 200 000 CIS modules per annum with a capacity of 14,8 MW will be manufactured and will boast a stable efficiency degree of over 11 percent.
PV Industry Forum 2006 in Freiburg.

PV Industry Forum 2006 in Freiburg: on 21.06. experts discussed thin-film technology and rural electrification.



Source: Solar Promotion GmbH


US manufacturer First Solar is currently expanding its capacities from 20 MW by a further 50 MW and announced at the end of April 2005 that he will erect a production site in Germany with 100 MW.

Further information on thin-film technology is contained in the literature listed at the end of the Solar Report.

Solar heating support gaining market shares
- future technology solar air-conditioning

Increasing consumer fears of bottlenecks in the energy supply with gas or oil, more expensive fossil energy and targeted government subsidies have increased demand for solar systems in support of heating systems during the past months. This market segment grew by 60% in comparison to the previous year. Technically advanced solar thermal combination systems for heating water and supporting heating systems were presented by various manufacturers at Intersolar.

Solar heating systems in support of conventional heating systems with solar thermal tube and flat collectors. Solar heating systems in support of conventional heating systems with solar thermal tube and flat collectors. Photo: Consolar

Very much the trend is a combination of a solar system and a pellet boiler, even in existing buildings. Within the framework of boiler renewals in 2005, 10 000 of these solar thermal and bio-energy combinations were sold. “The road to an ecological heating renovation is smooth,” BSW boss Körnig exclaims emphatically.

Cooling with the sun

Well in demand, but not available as “ready-made” products in Freiburg were systems for cooling with solar energy. “Solar Cooling” is increasingly in demand in mediterranean countries, but also in Germany. This utilisation of solar energy was the topic of the English seminar “Solar Air-Conditioning”. The heat generated by solar collectors is used through thermally driven refrigerating machines to cool offices, hotels or factories. In Europe 100 solar energy systems are already providing sufficient energy for cooling and air-conditioning processes. These pilot projects required extremely thorough planning because of the complexity of the procedure and the integration into the entire building and regulatory technology.

Solar thermal for air-conditioning can replace electricity generated from fossil sources.
[Wording in graphic presentation: Conventional power generation, Electricity, Electrically driven refrigerating machine, Cold water, Air-conditioned air, Energy consumers
Collector plant, Heat, Thermally driven refrigerating machine, Cold water, Air-conditioned air, Energy consumers]
Solar thermal for air-conditioning can replace electricity generated from fossil sources. Source: Conergy AG.
System suppliers such as Conergy AG are driving the commercial development of this innovative technology: Conergy is offering a modular system of high-performance solar collectors, refrigerating machine and buffer storage unit. Although solar air-conditioning generally has no storage problems because the need for cooling coincides with most intensive solar radiation, it is the very combination of air-conditioning and heating that makes solar cooling systems attractive in countries such as Germany. For an initial impression of solar air-conditioning, the company provides its clients with clear technical planning assistance, but emphasises that thorough projecting is required for accurate dimensioning.
What a match: when air-conditioning is required, solar energy is always abundantly available.

What a match: when air-conditioning is required, solar energy is always abundantly available. Supply and demand coincide.



Source: Conergy AG

Principally a distinction is made between systems with closed refrigerating agent circuits (to generate cold water) and open systems where the refrigerating agent (water) comes into contact with the atmosphere. Open systems (ventilation systems) are used for air dehumidification and evaporation cooling. Tailor-made air-conditioning systems are offered by Conergy with various refrigerating machines with a performance of between 15 and 300 kW.

Schematic presentation of an open system for solar air-conditioning with DEC refrigerating machine (left); buffer storage unit (centre left) and solar collectors (right).



Source: Conergy AG

Schematic presentation of an open system for solar air-conditioning.
How solar air-conditioning works in practice is shown by Conergy by a reference system in Ingolstadt where 50 flat collectors of the “Conergy F 6000” make are driving a solar air-conditioning system. Two further projects in southern Europe are to follow shortly.

Additional information on solar air-conditioning is contained in the literature listed at the end of the Solar Report.

SolarImpulse: around the world in 20 days
only with solar energy

It is with the solar aircraft “SolarImpulse” that the adventurer Bertrand Piccard wants to rewrite the history of solar aviation – and is planning to fly around the world in 20 days with solar energy only. Neither kerosine will be used nor will exhaust fumes be formed.
The energy required will be provided by solar cells that cover virtually the entire surface area of the aircraft wings. With a wing span of 80 metres SolarImpulse has the size of an Airbus 380 but will not weigh 560 tonnes like the most modern passenger aircraft but a “mere” two tonnes.
“ Many people fear that their mobility will be reduced through renewable energies, but we want to prove the opposite,” says Piccard who was the first human being to fly around the world non-stop in a hot-air balloon. SolarImpulse is to become a symbol that arouses enthusiasm for renewable energies among the people. And it is also to further the technology of solar cells, energy management and storage units.

SolarImpulse Animation André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard (from left) with a model of SolarImpulse
SolarImpulse Animation ©SolarImpulse, EPFL, artist Claudio Leonardi
Right: André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard (from left) with a model of SolarImpulse ©SolarImpulse, Stephane Gros
In co-operation with Sputnik AG, one of the first sponsors from the solar sector, and Christophe Ballif, Professor at the Institute for Microtechnology at the University of Neuchâtel, SolarImpulse pilot André Borschberg presented the ambitious project at Intersolar 2006. The feasibility of this project has already been proven by a study. Currently the prototype is being developed – and is to be airborne in two years. The earth is to be orbited in May 2011.

The 48-year-old psychiatrist Piccard will be accompanied by the 53-year-old engineer André Borschberg as a pilot. Their travel route will lead them from the United Arab Emirates via India, China, the Pacific Ocean and Hawaii to the USA; from there across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and back to the United Arab Emirates. Four stops for an exchange of pilots are planned in China, Hawaii, the USA and Europe.

Solar cells and energy management optimised to the limits

It is not an easy task to find suitable solar cells for this complex project, photovoltaic expert Professor Christophe Ballif explains. “You need to find the right compromise and consider various criteria, such as the degree of efficiency, thermomechanical stability, weight, reliability and costs,” says the head of the photovoltaic laboratory at the University of Neuchâtel. The ideal solar cell for this application has not yet been developed. It should have a degree of efficiency of 35 percent, should be cost-effective and should have a thickness of only a few millimetres. In addition, it should be possible to integrate such a cell into a system and/or a film that will resist all influences during the flight, such as UV or cosmic radiation. “For SolarImpulse the ideal compromise would be something like the following: thin, highly efficient, monocrystalline silicium solar cells with an efficiency of about 20 percent,” Ballif summarises.

Energy optimisation by MPP Tracker

SolarImpulse is the first manned solar aircraft that is to remain airborne throughout the night. “The night flight is the limiting factor. The success of this project is determined by energy optimisation and weight reduction,” pilot Borschberg explains. Here it is the inverter manufacturer Sputnik that will assist. “We support the SolarImpulse project not only financially but especially with our know-how by applying our inverter technology to solar aviation,” Sputnik Managing Director Christoph von Bergen explains. A so-called MPP Tracker is integrated into the battery management system of SolarImpulse which Sputnik developed for inverters of solar energy systems.

SolarImpulse Animation
SolarImpulse Animation ©SolarImpulse, EPFL, artist Claudio Leopardi
“The participation of Sputnik is very important in order to be able to carry out the project. Sputnik has an enormous know-how and superb products in the field of MPP Tracking. This is absolutely essential for an optimisation of the energy chain,” Bertrand Piccard explains. “We do not know whether future aircrafts will be flying with photovoltaics but we are exploring a new road. The first step in this direction has now been achieved,” André Borschberg adds.

Currently the prototype of SolarImpulse is being developed; in two years this impressive example of the potential of solar cells is to be flying our skies. In one year already Intersolar will for the last time be held in Freiburg from 21 to 23 June 2007. Prior to the fair estec 2007, Europe’s most important international solar thermal industry conference, will kick off.

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