The 2012/11/15 at 10:21
Marie Luginsland, en Allemagne
Q-Cells, Centrotherm, Solarwatt, Conergy, Solar Millennium, Sovello… one after the other, these German solar companies have found themselves in difficulty if not in a state of bankruptcy. After a vertiginous rise during the 2000s, companies that pioneered the global solar industry are today losing their shine. These businesses are victims of their own lack of competitiveness compared to other players on the market, namely from China, and also their lack in profitability on capital markets. The share values of the top eight German solar companies have shrunk by 20 billion euros in less than six years.
Today, it is Siemens’ turn to admit defeat in an activity costing it, according to estimates, 800 million euros, including 250 million euros for its liquidation. Peter Löscher, the group’s CEO, announced at the end of October that Siemens would sell its solar business despite launching it comparatively late, in 2009. 680 jobs are to be cut. The group, which placed its bets on thermal energy, quickly suffered from the competition from the photovoltaic front where prices have dropped significantly in the space of a decade. But Siemens must also digest its two other strategic errors: its investments in the Israeli and Italian companies, Solel Solar Systems and Archimede have not reaped the capital gains on which it was counting.
While Bosch is thinking about following Siemens’ example – a decision is to be taken in December this year on the future of its solar production –, the whole of Germany is anticipating the extinction of a branch that employed 125,000 people in 2011, according to the DLR Institute for Solar Research (Institut für Solarforschung). Are Germany companies today paying the price of German industrial policy when 65 % of the 23 billion euros in grants allocated to renewable energies have been attributed to photovoltaic energy? In any case, companies are claiming to be victims of reductions in solar grants, ranging from 20 % to 40 % according to the type of installation, following a parliamentary decision last spring. The German legislator nevertheless refrained from making the origin of installations a condition for grants. In this way, paradoxically on a fully expanding market, German manufacturers are being penalised by what they denounce as price dumping at the hands of their Chinese counterparts Suntech and Yingli.
A project buried in sand
Beyond competition on its own soil, the German industry fears losing its aura overseas. Due to Siemens’ withdrawal from the market, a large-scale project being led by Germans is losing one of its spearheads. Desertec, an initiative aiming to produce electricity for North Africa and Europe from solar and thermal power plants located in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, will now need to do without one of its initiators. Progress of the project undertaken by the consortium Dii (Desertec Industrie Initiative), gathering 56 German, French, Italian industrial and energy groups, the German insurer Munich Re, as well as North African partners, has already been delayed by the Arab Spring events. Today, at a time when a third conference was scheduled to launch a pilot project in Morocco last week, Spain has balked at ratifying the cooperation agreement uniting six European countries and Morocco. “I’m confident that the other partners in this negotiation, from Morocco and the EU states, will be able to convince Spain soon,” declared the CEO of Dii, Paul van Son. Even so, the problems are only just starting. Bosch has announced that like Siemens, it will not be renewing its partnership contract at the end of the year. And finally, Chinese newcomers, First Solar and SGCC, have recently requested their admission to Dii, creating new discord within the consortium.