With the exit of Siemens and Solar Millennium it would be easy to write off Germany’s involvement in the CSP. But the country’s remaining players aim to prove otherwise.
By Jason Deign
Time was when Germany stood proud in the world of CSP. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) undertook pioneering research at the Almería Solar Platform (Plataforma Solar de Almería or PSA in Spanish).
Meanwhile, manufacturers such as Schott Solar led the market for components and developer Solar Millennium secured plant contracts from Spain to the USA. Companies such as Schlaich Bergermann und Partner and Solarlite proposed novel technology approaches, whilst German-based Novatec has recently launched the world's largest Linear Fresnel Power Plant, Puerto Errado 2.
More recently, however, the Germans appeared to stumble. Solar Millennium lost its momentum and filed for insolvency in December 2011. Most of it assets have since been sold off, with its US operations, for example, being bought by NextEra Energy and BrightSource.
And last month the German engineering behemoth Siemens pulled out of the CSP market after its 2009 acquisition of Israel’s Solel Solar failed to meet expectations.
Viewing the lack of German names among the bidders for projects in upcoming solar thermal markets such as China, India, Latin America, South Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, it would be easy to assume that Germany has lost its grip on CSP.
Nothing could be further from the truth, however. And Germany’s remaining solar thermal players have banded together to prove it with the launch, this month, of an industry association called Deutsche CSP.
The association’s founders include DLR and Schott and it already counts 35 members. “We still see a lot of potential in this technology,” states Georg Brakmann, who is giving up his post as managing director of Fichtner Solar to become Deutsche CSP’s spokesperson.
A glance through some of the German companies involved in CSP confirms the country is still deeply entrenched in solar thermal.
Schott, for example, remains one of the industry’s top suppliers. Fichtner is credited with a leading role in the development of integrated solar combined cycle plants that have helped bring CSP to the Middle East and North Africa. Flabeg is an acclaimed glass provider.
And Brakmann says there were good reasons for the high-profile exits of Siemens and Solar Millennium. In the case of Siemens, he believes the company made a miscalculation in its acquisition strategy.
“They realised that the market for CSP is in Arabian countries and having a supplier from Israel is not the wisest choice,” he says.
In any event, it is also true that while Siemens is a major name in engineering and in renewable energy in general, within the CSP market it never gained enough critical mass to be considered an important player. And it will likely continue to do business as a CSP component vendor.
Solar Millennium, on the other hand, was certainly a relative CSP giant at one point. However, says Brakmann, it suffered along with the whole of the solar energy sector from the appearance of cheap PV imports from China.
“The CSP industry is in a difficult time because of the low cost of PV,” Brakmann says. “Before CSP was half the cost of PV but that cost advantage doesn’t exist any more. That is what created a problem for Solar Millennium at the time.
“They had big projects in the US and had spent a lot of money on those projects but from one day to the next the prices came down and so they couldn’t realise the projects. That is why they went bankrupt.”
So Solar Millennium’s demise was probably a case of simple bad luck. One feature of its collapse that is rarely noted, however, is that most of the company assets outside of the US have passed onto German owners.
Engineering and construction
Its engineering and construction arm Flagsol, for example, went to Essen-based Ferrostaal. Its share in the Andasol plant was sold to Andasol 3-Fonds GmbH. And its stake in Arenales got bought by a subsidiary of STEAG, Germany’s fifth-largest power company.
All this means a considerable level of CSP expertise remains in Germany. “We have the complete industry: project development, engineering, high-tech components and so on,” says Brakmann.
Observers agree that Germany still has a high standing in CSP, even if Dorothee Bürkle, of DLR corporate communications, acknowledges that “research is a little bit slower.”
Dr Eduardo Zarza Moya of the Spanish Centre for Energy, Environmental and Technology Investigation (Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas or CIEMAT in Spanish), says: “The DLA has a delegation of about 14 researchers at the PSA.
“We have a close relationship with them and DLR carries out a large amount of research and development into CSP. In fact, their budget for CSP is much bigger than CIEMAT’s.”
Bloomberg New Energy Finance solar insight manager Jenny Chase adds that even following the demise of Siemens and Solar Millennium: “There are still German firms that would play a part in the deployment of solar thermal on a large scale.”
Alles klar, as they say in Germany.
To comment on this article write to the author, Jason Deign
Or contact the editor, Jennifer Muirhead