Reducing Costs, Ensuring Quality Challenges in an Era of Megawatts

By Karl-Heinz Remmers, CEO of Solarpraxis AG

Dear Readers,

The current cost, as of April 2011, to construct a large-scale PV plant in Germany is 2,000 Euro/kilowatt peak (kWp) or less. Germany’s plant costs along with its feed-in tariff (in a functional market) – currently between 21 and 22 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) – are among the lowest in the world. In 2012, or 2013 at the latest, it is also possible that the tariff for these plants in Germany will be lower than that for offshore wind power plants. Furthermore, these PV plants are often located in industrial areas on consumers’ doorsteps, some of whom have always had to pay extremely high prices for peak load power.

It is interesting to compare this trend with the specific yields obtained in regions which have a higher insolation than Germany and where large-scale PV plants generate between 900 and 1,100 kWh/kWp. In the future it will be a question of using know-how transfer and corresponding legislation to construct PV plants at a low cost in other regions such as in North African countries and also in certain parts of Asia and America. Here, energy generation costs of between twelve and 15 cents per kWh can be expected – the figure is already lower in certain places.

The decrease in the cost of large-scale PV plants has already exceeded all expectations and the trend seems set to continue. More and more countries are counting on pilot projects, some in the three-digit megawatts range – they are even discussing the possibility of reaching the gigawatt range. A rising number of plants are reaching between one and 20 megawatt peaks (MWp) indicating that we are learning and constantly improving in this field on an international scale and at an increasing rate of knots.

The demand for quality and reliability is growing with every advance we make. We need to boost plant availability, which in turn will immediately boost plant efficiency (performance ratio) at a steady rate. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated concepts, the monitoring and maintenance of finished plants are improving and becoming more precise. The industry is constantly facing new challenges as a result of the quality evaluation of the products and material used; the in-depth planning discussions on yield calculations, statics, inverters, inverter connection concepts and cabling as well as on the necessary components.

In order to keep up with installation cost reductions for modules and inverters, we are becoming more and more successful in optimizing installation and adjusting sub-products that, as yet, do not quite fit precisely. A good example of this is the intersection between the module and mounting rack. Once launched, protection against theft and optimized commercial operations also become important issues so that plants can be used in a worthwhile manner even after the normal operating duration of 20 years.

This brochure addresses all these aspects. It is intended as a guide to and an overview of the industry, but is also aimed at responsible policy makers, and seeks to clarify the economic importance of large PV plants in assisting with the establishment of the appropriate framework conditions.

We would like to thank all the companies who helped create this brochure by providing special expertise and suitable products, and hope you will enjoy reading it!

Karl-Heinz Remmers