BITTERFELD: A decade after a wave of bankruptcies nearly wiped out Germany’s solar industry, the sector is looking to rebound in the face of competition. fierce competition from abroad.
Overproduction in China and massive government subsidy programs in the United States demonstrate the difficulty of maintaining profitability for a once-booming company in Germany.
In Bitterfeld-Wolfen, a solar cell factory opened in 2021 by the Swiss group Meyer Burger on the site of the defunct German manufacturer Q-Cells is a sign of the times Revival can happen. “We have recruited a certain number of industry veterans and we benefit from their know-how,” Meyer Burger plant manager Jochen Fritsche told AFP.
At this factory in the eastern German city, one million green cells are produced every day, ready to be assembled into modules that make up solar panels.
Production at the factory is largely automated, with only about 50 employees continuously monitoring the production process via computer screens.
First, the silicon wafers that form the base of the cell are immersed in a chemical solution. They were then coated with a reflective gray paint, dried and cut in half.
The result of this highly precise industrial process – the details of which are closely monitored by Meyer Burger – is a cell that can produce 20% more energy than the competition.
“Technology is at the heart of our business and it is what allows us to rebuild manufacturing in Europe,” Gunter Erfurt, CEO Meyer Burger executive, told AFP.
The group’s factory is located in the heart of what was once known as “Solar Valley”, an area in the middle of former communist East Germany that was home to many solar companies at their peak. high in the 2000s.
German manufacturers were the world leaders in solar power at the time, supported by healthy government subsidies. But public funding was cut in 2010, sending many companies into bankruptcy.
Thousands of jobs lost in Solar Valley as Chinese competitors take the lead in the industry.
Today, Chinese companies account for about 80% of global photovoltaic output, just as Germany is looking to reduce its dependence on the Asian giant and increase its renewable energy capacity.
Berlin’s target to produce 80% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 has been boosted by the revival of its domestic industry.
From January to September 2022, solar panel module output in Germany was 44% higher than the previous year.
“Still lagging behind”
Despite the recent uptick, the challenges facing German industry remain significant, including the fierce race for international subsidies.
The European Union responded in March this year with its own plan to facilitate financial support for green industries, but the project is still awaiting final approval from member states and European Parliament.
“We had the impression that Europe was always behind… In the United States, things are moving faster,” said CEO Erfurt.
Earlier this year, Meyer Burger decided to increase production in the United States when it applied for a 200,000 euro ($211,779) grant to increase capacity in Germany.
Production costs in Europe are still higher than elsewhere. “Europe is not competitive enough in energy-intensive but not particularly complex industries,” said Georg Zachmann of the research organization Bruegel.
Furthermore, overcapacity in China is driving down solar module prices and making it difficult for European companies to offset them.
This challenge has been too great for some people. Nordic group Norwegian Crystals filed for bankruptcy in August, highlighting risks to the European region as it seeks to return to growth.