Three different countries, three different working conditions, one profession: solar installer. At first glance, there are many differences, but the goals are the same.
Solar PV energy is not a local phenomenon, but rather a global industry where similar solar technology is used and promoted around the world. However, how do those who install this technology and take care of PV plants work? How do these in-field experts rate generating power from the sun? What are the differences between the individual countries? Solare Datensysteme GmbH asked trees of their installers/customers from three different continents these questions.
Meet installers around the world
Samay Mangalagiri is the director of SM Renergy (P) Ltd in India and his career path differs significantly from the other installers interviewed by SDS. He first managed in fish farming – shrimp aquaculture. On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, he prepared an analysis on the benefits of using PV and biomass energy for shrimp farming in developing countries. After this project his enthusiasm for PV energy persisted and he founded his own company in January 2017 – SM Renergy (P) Ltd. In just over a year, SM Renergy has already commissioned more than 1.1 MWp of rooftop solar PV projects and are currently maintaining approximately 7MWp of rooftop assets across India.
As the managing director of WALTER solar GmbH in Germany, Wolfgang Walter has gained a great deal of experience over the company’s long history. In 1987, he founded his engineering company which began installing PV plants in 2005. With the rise of PV energy, the company’s focus shifted towards designing PV plants and energy-efficient construction and modernization of buildings. Today, the company group covers all areas of renewable energies in and around buildings. This includes everything from design and planning to installation and plant management.
Together with David Ronen, Michael Putnam founded IL-Solar, Inc in 2015. The full-service distributor, installer and integrator of renewable and energy saving products is located in the state of Illinois (US). “We wanted to be part of this upcoming market of renewable energy and to help drive the development of renewable energy forward. Our core focus has always been to be on the forefront of what is coming next,” as Putnam described his motivation in getting involved in the PV market. IL-Solar is now using the services of 20 contractors, confirming the company’s successful strategy.
PV energy on-site
Everyone agrees that PV energy is an intelligent and forward-thinking solution for energy production. However, what is the current situation of energy production in the individual countries?
India has the greatest growth in the amount of installed PV output in recent years and is on pace to maintain this position in the upcoming years. Currently, India’s 1.3 billion inhabitants get most of their electricity from fossil fuels and hydropower. By 2022, there will be 100 to 175 GW of installed PV output and the goal is to have 40% of the total energy consumption come from renewable energies by 2025.
In Germany, the situation is somewhat divided. For a long time, Germany was the pioneer when it came to producing power from alternative energy sources. Today, Germany has a diverse mix of electricity from renewable energy and fossil fuels. Renewable energy from wind, water and solar are gaining on coal, gas and nuclear energy. Measured by the total energy consumption, Germany will not be able to reach its climate targets. Nevertheless, the percentage of power from renewable energy is already over 38% and the percentage continues to increase.
The coal industry plays a significant role in providing power in the United States, but a change is underway. About 30% of the power is produced by coal, followed by natural gas and nuclear energy. In 2016, 15% of the power came from renewable energy sources. Michael Putnam anticipates that the development will continue to be positive, “In the beginning, demand for solar plants was slow, but it has increased tremendously in recent years.”
Large projects, quick implementation, complex planning
We asked the installers about their favorite project from the past few years. The projects are as different as the market conditions.
Mangalagiri ‘s favorite project was installing 250 kWp on the roof of a school in Noidia, Delhi. With a hint of pride, he mentioned that this is the largest PV plant in Delhi.
Far more comprehensive are the reference plants from the German company WALTER solar. The company offers integrated concepts and the favorite project follows suit with its complexity. When explaining, Wolfgang Walter’s eyes light up, “In 2016 and 2017, WALTER solar implemented a project for allnatura Vertriebs GmbH’s new building in Heubach. Here the complete energy concept was designed with solar facades, power storage, heat pumps and a geothermal probe. The plant has an output of 129.10 kWp, producing 118,270 kWh a year – covering about half of their power needs.”
Day-to-day business and its challenges
Regardless of whether it is in India or Sweden, the technology to produce power from solar energy is similar. What does the day-to-day business look like in each country and what are the challenges that installers face?
According to Mangalagiri: “The delivery times are often a problem in India. Also, the Indian photovoltaic market is very price sensitive. It is, therefore, all the more important to win the customer over with competence and high quality.” Along with PV plant installation, SM Renergy (P) Ltd also offers yield monitoring. “Our goal is to ensure high plant output so that solid yields can be achieved on a long-term basis. This generally results in long-lasting customer loyalty,” Mangalagiri explains.
In Germany, it is a bit easier. Walter describes the situation, “In our case, PV energy is often the basis for an overall energy-efficient concept and provides a sustainable energy supply for new as well as old buildings. In addition to just a PV plant, plant monitoring, feed-in management, and smart home solutions have also established themselves and are increasingly requested by our customers. Plant monitoring primarily serves to assist in the continuous checking of the plant and the optimization of yields.” WALTER solar uses the Solar-Log™ system from Solare Datensysteme to monitor its customers’ plants. “Plant monitoring with Solar-Log helps us stay in contact with our customers and to stay informed about their energy needs and changes. This allows us to ensure optimal support to react accordingly to changes in the energy flows,” says Walter. The consumption of self-produced power is an important topic for the company. “Since we have high prices for electricity in Germany, self-consumption plays a significant role regarding the optimization of operating costs. We are moving from feed-in to self-consumption,” Walter explains.
“In the U.S., keeping materials in stock and fragile incentive programs are a challenge,” says Putnam, “Solar development still greatly depends on government incentives that are uncertain and are often in danger of being cut off suddenly without much-advanced notice. This affects the stability of the solar industry in the U.S.” Despite these hurdles, business is good for IL-Solar, Inc. On average, they install about 200 PV plants per year – mainly in rural areas. Here, plant performance monitoring plays a key role – a reliable backup system as well as a sales tool. Monitoring serves as a way to demonstrate the profitability of a solar PV plant to potential customers. Most new business comes from customer recommendations.
Energy that connects
What would the individual companies like to have for PV energy in the future? On one point, they all agreed: PV energy is a good solution that offers a lot of potential. But, the opinions differ on how this potential can be better utilized in each country.
Price and effectiveness have top priority in India. Mangalagiri sees even more potential here. His primary goal is that everybody in India can afford a PV plant to produce their energy.
In Germany, for Walter, the main focus is on politics and especially the regulations. “We would like to have less bureaucracy, especially in the form of fewer governmental regulations. The option of consumption of self-produced energy allows PV energy to stand on its own. The market alone should determine the pace,” Walter says.
Putnam sees requiring net metering for all energy providers as particularly important for the continued development of renewable energy. It is important to understand that net metering differs from the feed-in tariff model used in Europe. With net metering, surplus power is fed into the grid and the utility meter actually runs backwards, crediting the customer for the power fed into the grid. However, this is not offered in every state in the U.S. or from every power company. If it were that way, solar power would be more popular, more lucrative financially and it would grow much faster.