Swiss technology company and solar panel manufacturer Meyer Burger is getting killed by Asian competition in the low efficiency, low cost segment of the market. In response, its CEO, Gunter Erfurt, told a local radio station recently his company is developing plans to build a state of the art solar panel factory in Germany to manufacture more costly heterojunction solar panels that are up to 24% efficient.
The high output solar panels are the result of a collaboration between the company, Norwegian solar module maker REC Group, and a tech spinoff based on research by Oxford University. The output of the factory could be used to construct 10 gigawatts (GW) of floating solar on top of the lake left behind by the closure of the Hambach coal mine in the state of North Rhine – Westphalia.
A 10 GW solar facility would exceed the combined generating capacity of the Weisweiler, Neurath, Niederaußem, and Frimmersdorf coal-fired power plants in the region and would help Germany reduce its dependence on coal generation. While Erfurt has not specified where in Germany the new factory will be constructed, he hinted it might be in the same state, which borders the Netherlands and Belgium.
Construction and operation of the floating solar facility could help replace some of the 10,000 jobs expected to be lost in the local coal industry in coming years. It would also reduce evaporation from what is now the largest lake in North Rhine – Westphalia.
Hambach has been a flashpoint in German politics for a number of years, particularly because of utility company RWE’s plan to cut down what little remains of the Hambach forest to strip mine the coal buried beneath it. At the end of 2018, Hamburg-based green electricity provider Greenpeace Energy offered to buy electric utility RWE’s lignite division in a bid to close down coal-fired power plants in the ‘Rheinische Revier’ area by 2025 and replace them with 8.2 GW of solar and wind project capacity. According to PV Magazine, that bid was rejected by the power company, which has since announced it will shut down all mining and coal generation operations — eventually.