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Solar Production Technology
Too Little Money for Innovations
Technological progress could come to a standstill for German solar manufacturers.
International competition is threatening to leave German photovoltaics manufacturers in the dust. Speedy cost reduction in the production of solar cells could ward off the looming second-class status. But in these times of tough price wars companies are left with few resources for research and development.
Photo gallery to the topic Too Little Money for Innovations
Made in Germanyshow photos
…is no longer enough as a quality characteristic. Meanwhile several Chinese and US American manufacturers are producing equivalent technology at lower prices.
Rapid expansionshow photos
Due to the prolonged solar boom, Solarworld rapidly expanded the production capacity of its Freiberg plants while paying little attention to research and development.
Technology off the rackshow photos
Many German manufacturers are still producing only standard cells. New concepts have not been implemented in recent years – instead they lie fully thought-out in the drawers of German research institutes.
Diligent at the microscopeshow photos
Chinese manufacturers invest more in technological progress than German producers – which could put them in the driver's seat as technological leaders in crystalline silicon cells.
(Photo: Suntech Power)
Much manufacturingshow photos
Low wages provide Chinese companies with cost benefits in addition to their innovative energy.
A clear direction in regard to solar politics is lacking in German government. First it exacerbates the competitive condition for the German photovoltaic (PV) industry by sudden cuts in solar funding then it attempts to soften the blow by increasing research funding. 100 million euros will reportedly be available to companies for research and development (R&D) by 2013 provided that the companies themselves invest 500 million euros in technological improvements. 50 million euros come from the coffers of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), with the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) supplying the remaining 50 million. "The structural upheaval in the global PV market is endangering Germany's technological and market leadership," states Ullrich Bruchmann of the BMU's research department. This is why the federal government is attempting to flank the pending restructuring process through R&D offers. Until now the BMU and the BMBF have provided 60 to 80 million euros annually for PV research.
Nobody predicted that solar companies would be in need of assistance at present. PV had quickly regained momentum after the crisis. "We expect at least 50 percent growth in 2010," exclaims Carsten Körnig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association (BSW). The strong demand is already creating bottlenecks: Customers must often wait several months for their solar systems due to a shortage in inverters.