One of the world's most important solar power conferences, Intersolar Europe in Munich, comes at a crucial time for the solar industry. The industry's growth in Europe is slowing while other markets are booming.
Until Friday of this week (21.06.2013) over 50,000 guests and experts will visit Intersolar Europe at the Messe München exhibition center in Munich. The expo, which is one of the most important for the solar industry worldwide, will see some 1300 companies demonstrate their products.
In focus at the expo this year are technologies for the world's new solar markets, in Asia and Africa. As well, displays on how to make solar power more affordable and more accessible for households line the exhibition halls.
Europe's loss is Asia's gain
Until now, Europe was the center of the booming worldwide solar economy, with about 70 percent of the planet's solar power plants installed in Europe at the end of 2012.
But this year, the industry expects Europe to grow only slightly in solar power, especially in the established markets of Germany and Italy, especially because feed-in tariffs for solar power producers are reducing.
Solar experts see the development in the rest of the world very differently. The industry's foremost experts expect global growth to increase this year more than 10 percent over last year.
"It's highly probable that China will be the biggest market this year, number two will be Japan and number three, the USA," says Winfried Hoffmann, President of the European Solar Industry Organization EPIA.
Market research bureau IHS, from the United States of America, says a further reason for the decline in Europe's solar market is the anti-dumping tariff the EU Commission enforced against Chinese modules. Altogether, the analysts from IHS expect a European market decline of 35 percent in comparison to last year.
Off to new markets
Germans and other European companies are undertaking many strategies to offset the sinking sales in the European markets.
"We are looking to strongly expand into other markets in order to compensate, to places like Africa, the Americas and Asia," says Günther Häckl, President of the German Federation of Solar Economy (BSW).
But, with an eye on the worldwide boom and subsiding market in his homeland, Häckl is also not entirely sure, whether the new market re-orientation will be so easy to achieve.
Juwi, a solar company from the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz, is building photovoltaic farms both in Germany and abroad. For the moment though, the company is focusing on building overseas power plants.
Matthias Willenbacher from Juwi, says that, due to extra duties placed on imported solar panels from China and reduced feed-in tariffs, building solar farms in Germany is "no longer economically viable."
According to him, the potential for growth lies overseas.
Electricity storage in focus
A new market that is developing in Germany, however, is the private use of solar panels, which in turns reduces reliance on the electricity grid. For businesses and supermarkets which need a lot of energy every day, it is increasingly worthwhile to have solar panels on the roof, so they can obtain electricity more affordably than from a power company.
Module manufacturers and project developers, Centrosolar, have already built numerous solar units on Italian and German supermarkets and see there a growing market, which needs special development.
"The self consumption of solar power is becoming popular, but the companies involved need training and the projects are more complicated," Alexander Kirsch, Chairman of the Centrosolar Group AG told DW.
A key aspect of Intersolar this year is solar power storage systems, with many organizations putting forward their new developments. Private homeowners in Germany and Italy, whose solar energy from their rooftops still only costs half as much as from the power grid, are increasingly interested in the storage technologies.
Rural regions without electricity are also interested in these technologies, but the systems are still relatively expensive. The industry hopes to lower the costs in the coming years through innovation and increasing mass production.
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