Photovoltaics: More capacities needed

Photovoltaics is currently experiencing a massive boom. Nevertheless, the industry is facing major challenges, emphasizes Vera Immitzer, managing director of the Federal Association Photovoltaic Austria in an interview with SmartBuildingsCompass.

Photovoltaics are currently experiencing a massive boom – little wonder, since a completely new subsidy system makes it easier for consumers to access the corresponding systems. Nevertheless, the industry still faces major challenges, emphasizes Vera Immitzer, managing director of the Federal Association Photovoltaic Austria, in an interview with Smart Buildings Compass.

The Austrian Energy Agency still sees a lot of potential for the expansion of photovoltaics in Austria. What does this mean for the domestic photovoltaic industry?

Vera Immitzer: In concrete terms, this means that the domestic PV industry is still facing major challenges, despite the past two record years. Nine different regional planning, building regulations and electricity laws, which could not be more different, lead to lengthy and unnecessarily burdensome approval procedures. This area urgently needs to be decluttered. After all, an EU emergency regulation has been in force for five months, according to which photovoltaic plants must be approved more quickly – but it is only valid for a good year. Therefore, we urgently need an additional Renewable Energy Expansion Acceleration Act (EABG) in order to get plants approved more quickly in the long term and to reduce requirements to the necessary minimum.

There are rumors in the industry that PV systems can only feed a part of the generated electricity or nothing at all into the grid. Is that right?

Yes, unfortunately there is too little capacity in the grid for very many photovoltaic systems or it is unclear where there is still some available because the grid operators do not (have to) disclose this information. This leads to long waiting times, lack of feed-in possibilities and unclear conditions related to grid connection. The solution would be more transparency as well as clear grid expansion plans.

By 2030, PV electricity production must be expanded by eleven TWh. Where can the necessary facilities be implemented?

Unfortunately, we will only be able to implement about half with the classic roof systems. There will therefore also be a need for photovoltaic power plants in the open space that also feed in at a higher grid level – where capacities are still more readily available. Here, the individual federal states in particular are required to designate sufficient “priority zones” for the plants. A focus on dual-use potentials has proven to be extremely favorable, such as the combination with agriculture. As an association, we are trying very hard through intensive and fact-based communication – via studies, brochures, lectures, etc. – to create the necessary understanding of ground-mounted PV in each state so that ground-mounted PV is finally seen as an urgently needed part of the solution, alongside rooftop PV.

Subsidies play a particularly important role for consumers, what can users count on today? And what new funding can be expected or would be good if implemented?

The topic of subsidies is a very good example of how the Austrian government has removed an obstacle with the help of the EAEC. A completely new subsidy system at the federal level, consisting of an investment subsidy for photovoltaic systems up to 1,000 kWp as well as a market premium subsidy, and unbelievable subsidies in the mid three-digit million range were definitely the initial spark for the current PV boom. What is new is that several federal states have now launched their own subsidies for PV carports.

Exploiting new potential for further PV expansion

But there are other innovative forms of photovoltaics, such as facade PV, floating PV or on noise barriers. These installations are essential for further PV expansion, but are often more costly or fail due to required permits or lack of awareness of the need for the technology. If these projects were also more strongly supported by the federal states, new potential for further expansion could be exploited.

That means, on the subject of promotion, everything is good, everything is promoted?

Not quite, because it could still be optimized through a VAT exemption regarding private photovoltaic plants so that the promotion system’s bureaucracy is reduced. As an association we welcome this initiative by the Minister and, together with the Federal Guild of Electrical Engineers, are making every effort to hold conversations here and do important work to convince people.

How have the market shares of photovoltaics in the total electricity mix changed in recent years?

While the contribution of photovoltaics to domestic electricity generation in 2020 was still only three percent, this contribution has now been increased to around six percent. This may not sound like much at first, but it is a considerable amount when you consider that about 60 percent of the electricity produced in Austria each year comes from hydropower, so PV shares the remaining 40 percent with all other energy sources, including fossil fuels. In the past two years, no other energy source in Austria has seen such rapid growth as photovoltaics.

And in the future? What will be the share of PV electricity in 2030?

If we take a brief look into the future, assuming further massive electrification of the energy system, we can expect that as early as 2030 one sixth (at least 15 percent) of domestic electricity demand will be met purely by solar energy.

As an association, what do you expect in terms of market dynamics in the next few years, where will the industry develop?

The last few years have been really tremendous and PV has become a real mass phenomenon. Nevertheless, we have only harvested the “low-hanging fruit” and should by no means expect the photovoltaic industry development to simply continue. We must continue to optimize in order to maintain the current momentum, because there are still an extremely large number of PV systems to be installed in Austria.

New qualifications needed

New business areas and opportunities will therefore also arise for the industry, and new qualifications will also be in demand. In the building sector, for example, it will be innovative building-integrated photovoltaic systems, but also facade photovoltaics. There are currently some fire safety concerns with the latter. For this reason, as an association we are currently conducting field tests together with the City of Vienna in order to create clarity in this area in the future as well.

For the association, this means continuing to break down existing barriers for the industry, opening doors through fact-based communication and creating good framework conditions for the future.

©ThomasUnterberger/Federal Association Photovoltaic Austria

About the person

After her studies in Environmental and Bioresource Management at BOKU, Vera Immitzer works at the Energy Communication Network. In this role, she helps shape the political agenda in the field of renewable energies (specializing in photovoltaics) in various committee activities. 2017 she became secretary general, since 2019 she is managing director of the federal association Photovoltaic Austria.

Thomas Mach
Author: Thomas Mach

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