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Peter Kumer, Enertec: Solar Energy Has a Sunny Future

Peter Kumer, Enertec: Solar Energy Has a Sunny Future

Date: December 15th 2020

Author: Alenka Lena Klopčič

Category: En.vision

Topic: Electricity , RES and EE

“The word ‘photovoltaics’ derives from the Greek word ‘phos’, meaning ‘light’, and ‘volt’, the unit for electric potential and electric potential difference (voltage). Photovoltaics is a science that studies the conversion of the energy of light, i.e. the energy of photons, into electricity,” says Enertec on its website. There, one can also learn that the company was founded to pursue a new approach to using renewable energy sources. The aim of the (young) team behind Enertec is clear: to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies in regional markets. If necessary, the company will lease the rooftop space it needs to install its plants, providing its clients with everything “from a mouse to an elephant” in their own words, or in the language of solar: all components necessary to build a solar power plant, photovoltaic modules, inverters, prefabricated structures, etc. Although it is now winter time in our part of the world, which is also a time of less sunlight, our new video interview is with the director of Enertec, Peter Kumer. In what is nevertheless a very topical discussion, Kumer talked about the future of solar and the regulation of photovoltaics in Slovenia. Filmed on Friday, 11 December, the interview also touches upon the forthcoming public call by Slovenia’s Energy Agency for applications to enter the support scheme for large-scale solar projects. Click to watch the video (in Slovene)!

Solar is set to become “the new ‘king’ of the world’s electricity markets. Based on today’s policy settings, it is on track to set new records for deployment every year after 2022,” said Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in October when presenting the World Energy Outlook 2020 (MORE). As a representative of a solar company, you most likely agree with this. Still, could you perhaps share your own experience, or an interesting projects of yours, to corroborate Birol’s projection?

I agree with this, absolutely, not least because solar power generation has reached milestone after milestone ever since our company started following the development of the PV industry in 2008. Its technological progress, the economy of scale, and the slump in technology costs have brought solar in a position where solar power plants, when installed in the right conditions, no longer need high government subsidies to be economically viable. On the contrary, in some parts of the world, the costs of generating solar electricity have reached historical lows at levels below the costs of generating electricity in conventional power plants.

One does not need to go far to see a practical example. In Croatia, more specifically Dalmatia, the largest solar power plant in the region is being installed right now, and this project was fully developed by Enertec. As pure enthusiasts with strong faith in what we do, we started developing, back in 2012, a 7MW project located on 12ha of degraded land. That was still a time when we could only dream of having solar power plants in the region that are economically viable without support mechanisms. Fast forward to today, the plant is now in the final stage of construction, and the investor could implement it with no support mechanisms whatsoever. So, yes, I am confident that we will see the solar boom continue and reach new heights in the coming years.

In a recent article on Energetika.NET about why investments in solar also attract non-solar companies (MORE in Slovenian only), companies and investors gave various answers to what motivates them to invest in solar projects. Strong profitability, however, is still the primary motivation, the payback period usually being less than 10 years. Does this mean Slovenia has a good support scheme for solar PV?

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In fact, Slovenia has two applicable support mechanisms that address two different segments of solar investment. The more relevant one, the one that is currently stepping up solar PV deployment in Slovenia, is aimed at households and small business consumers. Self-supply of electricity, a programme implemented by the Decree on the self-supply of electricity from renewable energy sources and supported through grants by the Eco Fund, certainly works. The large number of new projects and the soaring growth of the industry prove that it does. The system stimulates small consumers – households and small businesses – to benefit financially from investing in solar. And financial benefits are undoubtedly the main impulse for people to make this sort of an investment.

From a professional or technical point of view, assuming that the rapid growth in solar devices will continue, self-supply of electricity as we know it in Slovenia is unsustainable. That said, it should be noted that annual net metering as a key element of the applicable decree, as well as the most stimulative one, is only envisaged to apply to new devices until the end of 2022, in accordance with the draft new legislation. Considering the rapid pace of development of battery storage, this is a realistic deadline to enable a gradual transition to a new regulatory framework and, hopefully, a sustainable support scheme, provided that Slovenia keeps pace with the latest developments. Let me also emphasise that I firmly believe the county would have a much greater deficit in terms of renewables had the Decree on the self-supply of electricity from renewable energy sources not been adopted in 2016. Solar PV is now virtually the only renewable energy industry with a rapid growth pace. Given the challenges in other industries, such as the siting of wind and hydro power plants, this was to be expected.

As regards the support scheme for large-scale projects, a new public call by the Energy Agency is scheduled for next week (the interview took place on Friday, 11 December, author’s note) for applications to enter the support scheme for large-scale solar projects. Hopefully, the Ministry of Infrastructure will also provide new opportunities for grants, after these were available at some point for investments in solar worth EUR 100,000 or more.

To sum up: generally speaking, the current support system for both small-scale and large-scale solar projects is designed to adequate stimulate investment in new capacity.

The PV industry needs no special incentives (not any longer), only rational behaviour that implements the good practices seen across the EU, the recent focus article on Energetika.NET also found (MORE in Slovenian only). Would you agree, and what do you as the director of a solar company think would guarantee the industry a promising future?

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I certainly agree, and let me highlight a couple of points here. The first one concerns an adequate regulatory framework for the period after 2022, when the existing self-supply system is scheduled to expire. The second has to do with legislation that removes the obstacles to using degraded land and other vacant lots, following the example of many EU countries that are light years ahead of Slovenia in terms of solar.

Last but not least, let me mention something that can still be felt in Slovenia despite the global trends in PV: some players in the power industry still refuse to come to terms with the new reality, where renewables are among the basic elements and a fact one needs to accept, rather that unnecessary disruptions in the power system. I hope we will see a change in thinking in this regard.

In a recent video interview for Energetika.NET, the director of Slovenia’s Energy Agency, Duška Godina, said that small-scale consumers should be encouraged to participate in demand response through awareness raising (MORE). Do you agree, and what would you say based on your observations – is energy awareness among individuals high enough, or is there still room for improvement?

I believe Slovenians are a resourceful nation that is quick to recognise the potential of ideas, and the more economically viable they are, the quicker they are accepted. After all, the rapid development of PV after 2016 demonstrates this. Before this, between 2009 and 2012, the industry had been known mostly to investors. As the share of electric heating started to rise, mostly on the account of heat pumps (HP), the cost of electricity rose above all other fixed costs, especially in households. Self-supply and its support scheme had a vital impact on households, on individuals to start looking into their energy consumption and raise their awareness of energy issues. For them, solar panels were a solution to manage or nearly offset the cost of energy.

Looking at the development of the industry in terms of both HPs and solar power plants in Slovenia, I would say that energy awareness is increasing nicely. There is, however, still ample room for improvement, and I believe, as I have said before, that awareness is increasing proportionally to economic viability: people tend to look for information on what has the potential to benefit them financially, in this specific case through lower costs. Hopefully, the implementation of the new network charge model that is now being drafted by the Energy Agency, and the changes in tariff classes can provide enough stimulative financial benefits for active consumers so that the scheme gains wider recognition. This way, I am confident that energy awareness will continue to grow.

Based on your experience as a market player, would you say that energy awareness is higher among large (companies, industry) or small consumers?

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Let me continue where I left off in my previous answer, and confirm that awareness is higher among small consumers. For them, the cost of electricity is often the highest monthly fixed cost, and by installing a solar power plant as their energy solution, they can almost fully neutralise it for a period of 30 years.

It would not be fair of me to infer, based on the current trend in PV, that energy awareness is low among large consumers. The fact is, though, that there is less interest to invest in solar power plants among large consumers. I think there are two reasons for this: firstly, electricity prices for large consumers are still quite low, and secondly, the prevalent thinking is that the expected payback period of investments in core business is still much shorter in industry than in energy projects.

When an investor approaches you, how much do they already know about solar and its market, and how much is it your job to update them on the latest developments?

Thank you for this question, it is really interesting to compare how it was just four years ago, the basics we needed to discuss with potential investors of how solar power plants work, with how the sales process is and how investment decisions are made today. In some extreme cases, the difference is huge. More specifically, if it used to take up to six months for the client to learn everything they needed to know and make the decision to install a device, it is not unusual today to have the decision taken within just days of the first contact with the client. This says a lot about how well informed individuals are.

Founded just over ten years ago, Enertec has participated in various capacities in all major solar power projects in the markets of former Yugoslavia, from the first ground-mounted system in Serbia (1 MW) to developing the largest solar park in Croatia (6 MW), which is currently being installed. In Slovenia, Enertec has worked on the largest solar park in the region of Bela Krajina. Today, it focuses on the maintenance of existing capacity, and installing systems for the self-supply of households, small businesses, and farms, and increasingly for industry.

The video interview, in which Peter Kumer also revealed his ideal advanced energy consumer, and shared his vision of the future of both solar PV and the energy industry at large, is available HERE (in Slovene).




This article is available also in Slovene.



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