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After hydropower, solar energy is the first renewable energy form to be economically viable even without EEG funding. Even in Germany, which has comparatively little sunlight, the technology is regarded as a fruitful method for generating climate-neutral energy. “However trite this may sound, the sun’s energy is a resource that we have always been able to use free of charge,” says Thorsten Jörß, Head of Photovoltaic Project Development. Solar modules, inverters, transformer stations and other components of a solar park must nonetheless be purchased. “Prices in the solar industry have risen again recently due to the strong demand. However, the technical and price-related developments of previous years are so sustainable that they absorb any price fluctuations,” explains Jörß.

The sun’s energy is a resource that we have always been able to use free of charge.

Thorsten Jörß, Head of Photovoltaic Project Development

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Lower costs thanks to progress and increasing production

From the time the first solar park was built in 2009 to around 2020, prices continued to fall. This was mainly due to mass production – largely in Asia – and to the technological advances in solar modules. In 2020, it was possible to manufacture the components around 90 percent cheaper in the Far East. “Besides the quality, we always pay attention to the production conditions here,” assures Thorsten Jörß. “Before supply chain legislation was even discussed in Germany, our suppliers had to go through a prequalification process and prove that they met the required standards.” Another reason for the considerable cost reduction is the progress achieved in the areas of research and production. The more power a solar module produces, the lower the cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. “While in 2009 we installed modules with an output of 90 watts per square meter in one of our first solar park projects in Leibertingen, today the figure is more than 200 watts per square meter.” And progress never sleeps. Manufacturers are already developing modules with an output of around 300 watts per square meter.

The considerable reduction in cost was an essential driver for making the technology marketable as the second regenerative form of generation after hydropower. And even though solar projects have had to cope with costs rising again in recent years, Jörß is convinced of the medium-term cost reduction: “We are currently experiencing a massive crisis with effects on supply chains and material availability, which should settle down again after a while.” Also, in view of the increasing number of new photovoltaic power plants in Germany and Europe, he views a further increase in production capacity in Europe as both sensible and necessary.

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Biggest solar park without state funding

The first subsidy-free solar park in Germany, Weesow-Wilmersdorf, fed its first kilowatt-hour into the power grid in mid-November 2020.

The aforementioned developments in the solar industry made it possible for EnBW to build Germany’s biggest solar park without state funding in Werneuchen, a town in Brandenburg. Weesow-Willmersdorf solar park has an output of 187 megawatts (MW) and the energy it generates can supply around 50,000 households. If this electricity were generated using the German energy mix, 129,000 metric tons of CO₂ would be emitted. “However, this open-field solar site is not just an important milestone for electricity consumers for reasons related to climate change mitigation. Since it was built without state funding, there are no EEG cost allocations, which means that the citizens don’t foot the bill,” says Jörß. Weesow-Willmersdorf solar park has already been followed by two further major projects in Gottesgabe and Alttrebbin (Brandenburg) with a combined capacity of 300 megawatts. EnBW has installed battery storage systems for the first time in the two solar parks, which were fully commissioned in March 2022. These cover the sites’ own energy requirements and feed the additionally generated power into the grid.

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EEG funding is nonetheless still important

EnBW intends to complete two further major projects within a year.

“To achieve our climate targets, it is politically expedient and also important to continue to provide EEG funding,” explains Jörß, assessing the current situation. “The expansion of wind and solar energy must continue at pace. Solar projects without funding are only possible for larger projects with good site conditions and low grid connection costs.

One route that EnBW is already going down is known as the combined project: In Maßbach in Bavaria, EnBW has built a 28 MW photovoltaic project, 10 MW of which will be realized with funding and the rest without. “This is a route that we will continue to take in order to build cost-effectively and achieve the climate goals,” says Jörß, looking toward the future.