Germany is a global leader in the solar energy market. A good example of this pioneering spirit is the Waldpolenz solar park, which once fully operational will be the world’s largest PV power plant, with an output capacity of 40 MW.

Christian Hinsch, Juwi Solar, Germany

Arnstein located in the German state of Bavaria, is the location of the world’s biggest photovoltaic (PV) power plant with an output capacity of 12 MW. However, one German company is set to dwarf that when the 40 MW solar power plant it is currently constructing becomes operational in 2009. The company responsible for this ambitious project is Juwi Solar GmbH, the solar energy arm of the Juwi International Group.

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We should not be surprised to hear that it is a German company that is leading the way in large-scale PV installations since Germany is well recognized as the world leader in solar energy.

In total, Germany has over 3000 MW of installed PV capacity, which represents 55 per cent of the global installed capacity of PV. In 2006 alone, it installed 1150 MW of new capacity.

Although the contribution of power produced by PV in Germany’s electricity supply is still relatively small, studies by a number of institutes and enterprises indicate that solar power production will become one of the most important sources of renewable power in the near future. Furthermore, investor interest in PV is also growing, and the sector is anticipated to be worth some €15 billion ($23 billion) by 2012.

Economic solar power

Termed the Waldpolenz solar park, the PV plant is being constructed on a former military airbase east of Leipzig in the state of Saxony. The 40 MW installation when completed will comprise of 550 000 solar modules, and cover an area of 1 million m2, or equivalent to 200 football pitches.

An aerial photograph of the Waldpolenz solar park as of early February 2008
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The plant is being built in a fixed tilt configuration with a 25° inclination, as this was calculated to be the most economic version. Although a 33° inclination would have given about 0.7 per cent more energy, this gain was outweighed by the higher cost for the whole construction because of higher wind loads, and by the cost of more land usage.

The solar modules at Waldpolenz use state-of-the-art thin-film technology, which is being supplied by Juwi’s key partner First Solar. Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), stipulates payment of approximately €0.35/KWh ($0.54), making installations that use innovative technology, such as thin-film, commercially cost-effective.

Upon completion the solar power station will produce around 40 million kWh of clean power a year, and will save the emission of 25 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The direct current produced in the solar modules will be converted into alternating current and fed to the power grid via a dedicated substation located approximately 6 km away.

With a specific price of around €3250 per kW, the power plant is anticipated to be between 20-40 per cent cheaper than the current German market price. Furthermore, after just a year of operation, the plant will have produced the energy that will be used in its construction. “Large-scale projects such as this significantly contribute to making solar electricity more competitive”, says Matthias Willenbacher, co-founder of Juwi.

On the 24 April last year, the first solar module was laid by the Minister of Economy of the State of Saxony, Thomas Jurk, and in the following August, the first sections of the solar plant were switched on and began supplying 6 MW of solar-generated electricity into the grid. This marked the completion of the first phase of construction. As of January 2008, Waldpolenz is supplying over 11 MW, and the project is on schedule to begin full operation by mid 2009.

Where it all began

The site of the Waldpolenz solar park was a former military airbase used by the Soviet Union. Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, the land fell under the jurisdiction of the city of Brandis. In the intervening years although there were many suggestions on how best to use the site – an amusement park or a race track – it was not until 2005, Brandis’ Andreas Dietze hit upon the idea to let it for the purpose of building a PV power plant.

Dietze’s innovative idea unfortunately remained on the drawing board, primarily because the lack of availability and cost of modules made it prohibitive for a single system integrator to build the whole plant. However, in early 2006 a joint proposal by Juwi Solar and First Solar was accepted. The land lease contract was signed in March 2006, the permitting process was concluded in December, and the works on site started in February 2007.

Challenges faced and overcome

It would be unrealistic to think that managing a €130 million project would be as simple as fitting a solar array on a family house. According to Willenbacher, to build the world’s biggest PV installation is a huge challenge. Besides the logistical aspects, managing the overall project – from ground preparation and component procurement through to grid connection – is very demanding.

“Initially our plan had been to use all available land which would have allowed 70 MW.” says Lars Falck, CEO of Juwi Solar, “But we found that in some outer areas quite precious wildlife had taken over the airfield during the years. In order to limit environmental impact to an acceptable level, we restricted the expansion of the plant to the runway and taxiways and the grasslands in between. This way the 40 MW mark was defined and a number of rare bird species keep their habitat in the outer areas.”

Another particular challenge and one that is ongoing is the fact that the exact power rating of the First Solar modules cannot be predicted for the entire plant. First Solar is continually working on increasing module conversion efficiency, so there is a tendency for more and more powerful modules to be delivered.

“While in 2006 we received 60 W modules, now we start to see the first 75 W modules of the same size. This means we need less and less modules and space per megawatt of inverter power. In order to avoid unused spaces between the megawatt blocks, our plant layout changes continually”, says Ingo Roedner, Juwi Solar’s construction manager. “But we have become used to this, and therefore our overall design leaves the required degree of freedom.”

Project funding

The investment volume for the Waldpolenz solar park is €130 million. During the development and licensing phases of the project Juwi Group together with the Sachsen LB Group successfully structured a professional equity capital and external financing scheme. SachsenFonds GmbH – a subsidiary of the Sachsen LB Group – will offer owner’s equity of the project to interested investors in the form of closed-end funds. So local residents, for instance, will also have the opportunity to participate in this one-of-a-kind project. “The Sachsen LB Group’s long track record in project financing of renewable energy projects clinched our financing decision,” says Fred Jung, co-CEO and co- founder of the Juwi Group., a private company that has been involved in renewable energy projects since its inception in 1996

Employment opportunities

Waldenpolenz is being built in the Muldentalkreis district of Saxony in the townships of Brandis and Bennewitz, and it has given new impetus to the regional labour market. Up to 100 people are being employed in the construction of the solar park, with most of them hailing from the region. After completion, juwi staff will be responsible for the operational management, maintenance and servicing of the power plant.

Furthermore, solar projects like this one also create many jobs in the supply industry – from manufacturing of solar modules and converters to metal-making. For example, the 550 000 solar modules for Waldpolenz are produced primarily in Frankfurt on Oder, Brandenburg, creating 400 jobs.

Solar expertiSe

Juwi Solar, which is based in Boladen in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, has previously built a number of large solar plants, such as the 6 MW installation “Rote Jahne” 30 km north of Waldpolenz. Juwi’s total installed solar power at the end of 2007 was about 100 MW. For 2008, the target is 120 MW, and in 2012 the accumulated volume is expected to exceed 2 GW. The majority of the modules will be thin-film technology. According to Falck, there is insufficient price visibility with wafer based modules. Therefore it is difficult to discuss multi-year, large volume agreements for such products.

For Juwi, the German market for solar plants will account for around 20 per cent of its installations. The remaining volumes will be installed in other European countries, in Asia, and America. Juwi is active even in Africa.

In 2007, Africa’s biggest plant of 250 kW was built by Juwi in Rwanda at 2000 m above sea level. “This was a logistic challenge par excellence, where we have proven that we are ready for complex jobs like this.” says Falck. An interesting fact are the modules of this plant face north, since the location is on the southern hemisphere.

An important element of Juwi’s activities is collaboration. The group has a number of joint ventures with utilities. One example is RIO Energie, a joint venture between Juwi and the local utility of the City of Mainz, the Stadtwerke Mainz. RIO owns and operates solar and wind power projects developed and installed by Juwi. A very similar cooperation is the company Pfalzwind, a joint venture between Juwi and the regional utility Pfalzwerke. This company runs 50 MW of wind power and has recently decided to expand the portfolio by another 50 MW. Exciting times ahead!