Franco-German PV plan gathers pace

France and Germany in the coming months are likely to officially throw their support behind a project led by Germany’s Fraunhofer ISE institute to create a multi-gigawatt PV factory, the head of the institute says.

“We would like that this project will be announced by governments as a joint Franco-German project,” Fraunhofer ISE head Eicke Weber said at an event in Berlin, adding that from 2015/16 there will be a shortage of global PV production capacity.

The XGWp-project now is in a kind of “stealth mode",  Weber explained, saying that he currently can’t disclose technological details or which companies back the project.

“We would like to give the involved ministries a chance to announce it as their baby, and in my opinion that will be the case in the next two months.”

In a first phase, Fraunhofer, other European research institutes, and the yet-to-be-announced supporting companies hope to build a 100MW pilot plant for which some €50m ($69m) in capital is required.

If the pilot production line is a success, a further €500m to €600m will be necessary to move to a production in the GW scale, Weber says.

As many PV companies have shut up shop in recent years amid a global excess in production, while demand now is rising extremely fast, a “crossroads” will be reached in 2015/16 after which the world needs fresh PV output capacity, he claimed.

Fraunhofer expects global demand to rise to some 45GW this year, and to about 100GW in 2020.

“It will be such a gold rush we can’t even imagine yet,” Weber said.

“Now the great challenge is whether those PV production plants that we will see emerge in the coming three to five years will be in China, ..., or whether we will keep our technological lead in Europe.”

Fraunhofer in January had already said that Europe’s solar sector can compete head-on with China by creating economies of scale and by using the latest technological advances in PV with the proposed XGWp-project.

Part of Fraunhofer’s business plan for the multi-GW plant is to have an even higher level of automation in PV production. With such production processes, only 5% of costs come from human workers, Weber stressed.