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Will Agriculture Be a Growth Market for Solar?

Experts estimate that in Germany agricultural operations account for approximately 20% of all photovoltaic installations sold. For most of the farmers there, PV has developed to a second source of income. This is why SCHOTT Solar has been using their many years of experience to make their solar modules even more suitable for agriculturalists─for instance, by offering an extended performance guarantee or test marks from the German Agricultural Society. SCHOTT Solar’s CEO Dr. Martin Heming talks about the company’s activities in the agricultural sector and its technological advancements and competitiveness.


Dr. Martin Heming, CEO, SCHOTT Solar AG


By Jeanny Lim



Who is your target audience for your PV products?


SCHOTT Solar offers the full range of PV products for nearly all audiences and applications: starting from crystalline and thin-film modules for house owners, farmers and industrialists on to building-integrated solutions for architects and house builders, and ending with PV solutions for electronic equipment which SCHOTT Solar delivers to OEMs.


I understand you have been working with the German Agricultural Society to develop a standardized test procedure for solar modules used in agricultural environments. Could you give us an update on that?


The German Agricultural Society and SCHOTT Solar worked together in 2009 to develop a standardized test procedure for solar modules in agricultural environments. The test simulates the unique conditions that the photovoltaic modules on top of farm buildings with livestock must withstand, such as ammoniacal air in barns. These tests help determine whether PV modules are suited for standing up to the effects for periods of use of at least 20 years or not. They take place inside a special atmospheric chamber that contains environmental pollution. To assess ammoniacal resistance, each module is also subjected to a visual inspection both before and after the climate test, as well as an insulation test, a test of the insulation resistance with moisture, and a performance measurement. The PV modules from SCHOTT Solar met all of the demands and fulfilled the test criteria of the DLG. They will be issued with the DLG Mark of Conformity.


How important do you think the agricultural sector for PV is? And why?


The agricultural sector is very interesting for SCHOTT Solar in countries that offer attractive feed-in tariffs for PV power plants up to 100 kW. Farmers usually own big buildings such as machinery halls or barns for livestock that are suitable for PV installations. Experts estimate that in Germany, for example, more than 20% of the solar power modules are sold to farmers. For most of them PV has developed to a second source of income. Some of those “energy farmers” even build new halls only to install a PV plant on the roof.


What kind of guarantee do you provide to your PV customers?


SCHOTT Solar continues to pursue its quality strategy and has recently extended the guarantee conditions for its solar power modules. We are offering a 25-year performance guarantee on glass-foil modules and even a 30-year guarantee on double glass modules. In addition to the new guarantee terms, we have introduced so-called continuous plus tolerance. This means that all of the modules that belong to a performance class generate at least the nominal power listed. These measures increase efficiency quite considerably for those who own photovoltaic systems and underscore the premium quality that SCHOTT Solar offers.


Tell us more about your thin-film technology. What kind of competition do you expect to face?


We are currently working in several industry cooperations to enhance effectiveness and materials usage of thin-film modules. For example, Ersol and the IMEC institute are among our partners, and “micromorphous” is one of the keywords here. I am convinced that we will see a strong increase in efficiency of thin-film modules in the next years. But one must not forget that crystalline and thin-film modules do address different application scenarios. One technology will not substitute the other one. They will rather complement one another.


The global manufacturing sector has been hit hard by this recession. Companies serving every market from automobiles to appliances have experienced alarming drops in orders for many months. As we all know, the solar industry has not been immune. Reduced orders, increased inventory and rounds of layoffs have characterized the last 12 months for this industry. But most predict that manufacturers still have months to go before a rebound. Do you think the solar industry could already be on the mend?


Of course, the recession has affected the solar industry. During the crisis, people had postponed investments, and thus prices of solar modules fell rapidly. But this, in turn, also had effects on the demand side. From mid 2009 on, orders have increased noticeably, so the overall picture is positive. Those companies that have taken cost cutting measures should already be on the mend. Nevertheless, I think that we will see fluctuating prices and demand in 2010.



Farmers are a very interesting target group for the solar industry as they usually own big buildings such as machinery halls that are suitable for PV installations.


Any success stories you? like to mention to the international market?


You will find SCHOTT Solar’s products anywhere in the world--from the Stillwell metro station in New York (the biggest solar glass roof in the world) to six rural clinics in the district of Yendi in Ghana that can now obtain off-grid electricity for lighting, cooling and computer systems, to name but a few examples.


What does Schott Solar’s pipeline look like at this point?


We are going to introduce new quality modules in 2010, in line with our quality strategy. The new InDaX product line with roof-integrated modules are available now. We’re already presented the module at Intersolar and EUPVSEC last year and got great feedback. One of the target markets will be France, since they offer a special feed-in tariff for small building-integrated PV installations where our InDaX fits perfectly. Also, we will launch a further high-quality module in 2010, details to be revealed in spring.


What would you like the investment community to know about Schott Solar?


SCHOTT Solar looks back on more than 50 years of experience in the field of solar technology. Our business activities are divided into two areas: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and Photovoltaics (PV). In the CSP division, SCHOTT Solar develops, manufactures and markets highly efficient receivers, one of the key components for solar power plants that utilize parabolic trough technology. We consider ourselves to be both the market and the technology leader in this field. In the PV division, SCHOTT Solar supplies all of the key components in the photovoltaic power generation value-added chain--wafers, solar cells and crystalline photovoltaic modules, in addition to a-Si thin-film modules. Based on our long years of experience in research and development, we rank as one of the leading integrated suppliers of high-quality photovoltaic products. With production sites all over the world, many years of advanced manufacturing expertise and experience in combination with an international sales network and experienced, highly qualified employees, SCHOTT Solar feels it is extremely well positioned in the market.


Jeanny Lim is Editor-in-Chief of InterPV. Send your comments to swied@infothe.com.



For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

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