What are your thoughts on the implications for clean energy – and more specifically, solar – from the Federal Government’s 2012-13 budget?
There are no real surprises in this budget. It is great that the commitment to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is upheld to support energy efficiency initiatives and low-emissions technologies – this is good news for the renewable energy sector as a whole.
However, the ongoing inconsistencies between federal policies and state-to-state policies – as well as abrupt policy changes – make planning for the medium- to long-term difficult for the entire industry, including installers, manufacturers, wholesalers and also homeowners.
Despite some speculation, the government has kept the tax exemption in place for diesel – if it had been removed, it could have stimulated a market for photovoltaic (PV) solar, where diesel is used for power generation. A level playing field for all resources – renewable and non-renewable - would have been helpful.Article continues below…
It is also a shame that the $48 million set aside for the Connecting Renewables to the Grid Program have been pushed out by six years. Australia’s national grid requires a massive overhaul to accommodate current demand and to prepare the country for a sustainable future.
Yet, there is some hope for commercial PV. Although tax breaks for the Green Buildings Program have been axed, support for retrofits of commercial buildings will be available via the Low Carbon Australia fund through the CEFC.
Do you agree with results from the Australian PV Association that solar PV has reached grid parity in major centres around Australia?
We agree that in some areas grid parity has been reached, based on the levelled cost of electricity (LCOE), considering that LCOE immediately takes into account all future electricity price increases that will occur during the lifetime of a PV system.
This shows straight away that PV is a real alternative to grid-connected electricity – despite the fact that the Short-term Trading Certificate multiplier will be reduced.
Thinking more long-term will have an impact on the purchasing behaviour of home owners and businesses. The decision-making process will become more involved, and product characteristics like quality, reliability and safety will become more important than ‘cheap, cheap, and cheap’. Only these characteristics can ensure that solar solutions perform well in the long run and guarantee a higher return on investment.
Can you provide any updates on the current business operations and financial situation of Q.CELLS SE, both in Australia and overseas?
The past months have proven to be tough for the global PV industry. A large number of companies experienced heavy losses. This has also affected Q.CELLS in Germany.
The German company is currently under administration and is going through a process similar to the Chapter 11 procedure in the United States. The administrator has the aim to ensure the foundation for a continuation of operations. These processes are not uncommon – for example, companies like General Motors and Chrysler underwent similar processes a couple of years ago in the United States, and stand now stronger than before.
Business operations are running smoothly and module production is pumping out at 100 per cent.
In fact, global demand is actually very strong. It is important to realise that Q-Cells Australia is not under administration. We are a separate legal entity.
Over the past two years, we have managed to build our brand and services on the outstanding quality of our modules. They perform incredibly well in the harsh Australian climate, as can be seen at the independent testing site of the Desert Knowledge Centre in Alice Springs, as well as dozens of sites under our monitoring across all climate regions in Australia.
Our modules were the first to pass Dynamic Cyclone Testing for Category D at the testing centre at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland. This means that our modules are strong enough to withstand a 1,000-year cyclone – the perfect module for the Northern Territory, North Queensland and northern parts of Western Australia.
We have built a strong and loyal partner network across the country, and it is business as usual for us in Australia. Sales figures have increased significantly over the last few months.
We also have a number of projects coming up – for instance, the 162 kilowatt system atop the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs, which will be installed by the middle of 2012. We will use our premium module Q.PEAK BLK for this installation. Q.PEAK BLK is a completely black module and meets the aesthetic requirements of the Arts Centre. It will look stunning – and produce lots of electricity at the same time.
What products and technologies will Q.CELLS focus on during the 2012-13 financial year?
We have a big pipeline. Our 200 engineers and scientists have been busy coming up with new technologies to improve cell and module efficiencies. Our seven world records over the past 12 months show that we have been quite successful in this area.
These new developments are now being gradually transferred into mass production. We expect the new cell generation based on the record-breaking Q.ANTUM technology to come to market in early 2013.
We will continue to further prove the safety, reliability and superior performance of our modules through third party testing particularly for our unique Australian climatic conditions. We are also excited to work with our partners this financial year on larger commercial and utility-scale projects across Australia.
Q.CELLS globally has had a very successful year on the systems side – we constructed the largest power plant in Europe at 91 megawatts (MW) in under eight weeks; a world record. 2012 started well with a number of large systems, including 7 MW of solar for IKEA in Italy. Based on these experiences, Q-Cells Australia will further expand its services to support partners in terms of performance forecasting, financial project analysis and engineering to help them enter the commercial and industrial market and to offer solutions for remote solar power supply.