Commissioning of our photovoltaic system

At the end of August the moment finally arrived – we were able to use the first electricity from our PV system. However, the path getting there was not easy. Continue reading

Over a year ago, when energy costs were still very moderate, we decided to equip all suitable roof areas at our site in Radevormwald with a PV system. The large-scale investment is an important milestone as part of our long-term project “Our way to climate neutrality”. In the course of the project, however, this part of the route turned out to be a bumpy path through a real jungle of regulations, insurance requirements and bottlenecks in the procurement of components.

In mid-2021, there was still no foreseeable problem regarding the supply, availability and cost of energy. With an electricity price of less than 5 ct per kWh, we nevertheless decided to carry out one of the largest investments in our company’s history: a PV system with a capacity of over 2 MWp. By this means, we want to secure about 20% of our total electricity demand in a climate-neutral way. The main motivation at that time was to take a good step closer to climate-neutral production without losing a lot of money in the long term.

The payback periods are very long, but thanks to the reliable lending commitment from our Volksbank Oberberg via a KfW loan and thanks to a very well-developed quotation from our experienced partner Winkel-Energie, we took the plunge.

Shortly after commissioning the project, the first hurdles arose in the discussions with various insurance companies. In concrete terms: numerous, not always comprehensible, requirements stipulated by fire protection insurers. The assessment of fire risks was carried out based on outdated, technical standards of more than 10-year-old systems and every smallest increase in risk was strictly rejected. Only through intensive negotiations and the assumption of residual risks by us, we were able to avoid very complex roof renovations in the high six-figure region, which would have brought no discernible benefit.

In the spring of 2022, the next hurdle followed with the shortage in the supply of electrical systems and components. Fortunately, our partner Winkel Energie had ordered almost all critical components ahead in very preventive fashion. Nevertheless, there were delays in delivery. Initial commissioning was able to take place according to plan in May 2022, but it turned out that some components were defective. Unfortunately, the procurement of spare parts led to further considerable delays, as the components of a PV system in our power class are not available from stock on a large scale.

The Type A plant certificate according to VDE 4110, which is required for a PV plant of our size, also cost us a lot of resources. The large number of players involved and the duration of the processing surprised us very much. According to the body that issued our certificate, the processing of the documents required for this took at least 8-12 weeks. In addition, there is a serious bottleneck at the corresponding engineering offices. For example, the grid operator in the Ennepe-Ruhr district is currently expecting an additional waiting period of at least six months for processing. Fortunately, we did not have to wait that long and thanks to the very fast and flexible response of the Radevormwald municipal utilities, the calculations and the issue of the certificate were able to be done whilst the still defective components were being replaced.

On 27.08.2022 we put our system into operation. Due to the cooperation with very competent partners, there was “only” a delay of almost three months. Unfortunately, these were the three most sunny months of the year.

What this project has clearly shown us: the installation of photovoltaics cannot be taken for granted. A look at what happens in practice shows that a significant increase in the capacity of renewable energy supply within a few years in Germany seems impossible. Not only are there still very large supply shortages and cost explosions for components. All installation companies, engineering offices and energy suppliers are also working at full capacity. If we were to start the investment in a similar PV system again today, we would have to expect an implementation period of up to two years.

In addition, these investment decisions have to be made under the greatest uncertainty regarding the development of energy costs. What will happen in a few years if there is an oversupply of PV electricity in Germany with good sunshine and the electricity price possibly even become negative again at times? How, then, does such an investment pay off? Who can be responsible for these investments in the face of such scenarios if they cannot – like us as a family business – think in terms of generations?

It is abundantly clear: we still have a long way to go. But the important thing is that we have already set out on this path in Germany. We will be among the first in the world to be supplied with renewable energies even in the energy-intensive industry. Until then, however, we still have a bumpy road ahead of us – especially “thanks” to Putin – on which we have to manage to keep our customers in particular and take them with us.

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