The sun appears to be setting on Germany’s solar industry, as Solarworld, one of its biggest hopes, filed for insolvency this week.
The big question that will be asked when the global photovoltaic sector convenes in Munich at the end of May for Intersolar, the world’s biggest solar trade fair, is whether the sector collapsed because it failed to innovate, or because Chinese companies distorted the market.
There is little doubt that the German government’s vision of making Germany a leader in photovoltaic technology, in parallel with the country’s transition to low-carbon, more environmentally friendly energy, has failed.
“The solar industry is one of the key industries of the 21st century. With the end of Solarworld, it will be dominated almost exclusively by Chinese companies,” said Götz Fischbeck, an expert at Smart Solar Consulting. There is not a single manufacturer left in Europe that covers all the main steps in the value chain, he added.
Solarworld was the pioneer and poster child of the German solar industry but it is also merely the latest in a long series of insolvencies, after CSG Solar, Sontor and Solon, followed by Odersun, Sovello, Q-Cells and countless others all over Germany. They all started with great hopes and the belief that they could transform sun and sand into millions. In the end, they all failed spectacularly.
Around 133,800 people worked in the German solar industry in its heyday. Today this has shrunk to below 32,000, and over 2,000 more jobs are at risk with the collapse of Solarworld. And still others could be affected.
Mr. Fischbeck said the collapse of these companies will also hit energy research centers such as the Fraunhofer Institute which are dependent on third-party funding from industrial partners such as Solarworld.