Solar energy causes revolution in Dutch electricity market

EXPERTS: "Growth of solar much greater than expected"

EINDHOVEN/ROTTERDAM – The growth of solar energy has had a much greater impact on the Dutch energy infrastructure than was previously expected and taken into account. As solar panels look set to supply a much greater share of domestic electricity needs in the future, gas and coal plants are growing increasingly unprofitable, and energy utilities are having to find new solutions for energy storage and smart-grid development.

According to experts, the growth in market share of solar energy could amount to much more than the 4000 MW that the companies and organizations united under the Dutch National Solar Energy Action Committee predicted for 2020. This projection was based on an annual growth of 25 per cent. Last year alone, the growth of the number of solar installations in the Netherlands amounted to more than 200 per cent. If annual growth turns out to be more like 50 percent than 25, the Netherlands will have reached a milestone of 1.5 million installed solar energy systems within five years, compared to the 100,000 that are already operational.

"This is nothing short of a revolution. Since we're right in the middle of it, the speed of it all isn't that noticeable. In ten years, we will look back at this point in time and fully realize the change that has taken place," says Edwin Koot, CEO of Solarplaza.

At the end of 2012, solar panels in the Netherlands already offered a combined capacity of 280 megawatts. Last year, around 240 million kWh of solar energy was generated, corresponding to 0.22 per cent of overall national electricity consumption. And this is in addition to the growing amount of solar systems already constructed without subsidies, for which there is no detailed data.

With solar photovoltaic (PV) panels becoming increasingly cheaper and energy prices continuing to rise, solar energy generated on private roofs is now cheaper than energy tapped from the grid.

Furthermore, investing in a solar system can generate interest rates three times as high as those of a regular savings account. This will only contribute to the apparent growth. It's likely that in three years' time there will already be more than 440,000 PV systems in the country, covering 1 per cent of the national electricity consumption.

In 2020, an annual production of 4,000 megawatts of solar energy could cover 3 percent of the national consumption. But if the growth of solar energy turns out to be closer to 40 percent – which is very likely – this contribution will be close to 6 percent. On sunny days, this could mean that coal and gas plants will have to be shut down. In Germany last year, a sunny month of May resulted in 50 percent the electricity demand being provided by solar panels, while the annual share amounted to 5 percent.

According to Solarplaza, the Netherlands are underestimating the consequences of this phenomenon. While coal and gas plants will become less and less profitable, they will continue to be needed during periods without sun. In the summer, this could lead to these plants having to dump their electricity on the international market, as their German counterparts have already experienced. Energy utilities will also lose out on a considerable part of their revenue, when their clients generate their own electricity through solar panels. "That's why energy utilities need to find new business models and really face the challenges head-on. They will need to focus their attention on energy storage systems, advanced energy management and smart-grid solutions," according to Koot.

The fifth consecutive edition of The Solar Future: NL '13, which is to be held on 23rd May in the Evoluon in Eindhoven, will welcome experts such as Professor Wim Sinke, Professor Han Slootweg and the successful Australian/American entrepreneur Danny Kennedy, who will share their visions on the trends and developments in the field of solar energy.

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