No other energy resource in the Czech Republic has been as discussed in the media and political debate as solar has been in recent years. The technology entered the Czech energy sector in 2010 with a big initial bounce, but its development stagnated during the next decade. Those interested in Czech photovoltaic technology are now attempting to revive it, says Martin Sedlák.
Czech photovoltaic cells – a wild history
Over the past decade, ministers of industry in the Czech Republic have alleged that solar has no potential and is expensive. However, a wave of interest in solar did come to the Czech Republic from the dynamic global developments in this unique technology – and the Czech system was not prepared. The first wave in 2009 sparked solar growth and was followed by exponentially increased growth in 2010. The Czech Republic suddenly had almost 2 000 MW of solar capacity installed.
This jump-start of growth was also projected into the cost of electricity, given that consumers in particular were paying for state support of solar. The problem was not how the amount of such support was set up. However, the Czech Republic had no aims for how many new renewable projects should be brought online per year.
Unfortunately, solar park owners became labeled as the culprits, and politicians began using the derogatory label “solar barons” for them in the media. Today this shorthand is exploited mainly by Czech President Miloš Zeman, but in the past it was also commonly part of statements made, for example, by the chair of the Energy Regulatory Authority. The main problem was, however, a mistake made by the regulation. However, nobody was looking for it there.
As a corrective measure, the previous administration pushed through a special solar charge, the so-called solar tax of 26 % imposed on installations dating from 2009 and 2010. The charge was to have applied for three years, during which project owners lost part of their state support. The charge was then extended for solar parks dating from 2010, set at 10 % for as long as they drew on state support.
Solar owners believed the measure was not just retroactive, but contradicted the aim of increasing renewables. However, their lawsuit failed before the Constitutional Court. Several international arbitrations are still underway.
The impact of these moves on solar has been merciless: Since 2011, no big solar projects have been implemented in the Czech Republic. What is annually growing is rooftop solar, with a capacity of 6 MW to date.
Support for small installations
2018 appears to have been slight promising: Rooftop solar growth has doubled year-on-year. During the first 11 months of 2018 there have been more than 1 500 applications for support paid out with a capacity of 6 MW.
From the perspective of new project growth in other European countries, the Czech example appears embarrassingly small. Nevertheless, domestically it appears to be a success after the years of decline. Firms performing installations now enjoy a predictable, stable environment. They are able to offer solar solutions for heating water, either alone or in combination with batteries or heat pumps. Families are able to request support for installations, depending on the type of system, that ranges from CZK 30 000 to CZK 150 000 (EUR 1 150 – 5 770) from the New Green Savings program.
Bigger projects of up to 1 MW of capacity can also be commercially implemented. The Czech Industry and Trade Ministry has already issued two calls through which firms can request investment into photovoltaic electricity generators. However, the condition is that the power generated be used directly on the firm’s own premises and that the equipment be installed on that particular building. During 2018 several projects on the order of hundreds of kilowatts have been built. Unfortunately, no other call has been announced and the companies are thus postponing their investments into renewables.
Opportunities for Czech solar have exponentially increased
The solar energy association has presented a study mapping the potential for solar in the Czech Republic. From its calculations, contributed by the renowned consultancy EGÚ Brno, it follows that there is technical potential for as much as 39 GW of solar. This includes opportunities to install panels on facades and rooftops as well as the building of photovoltaic electricity generation projects in brownfields. In total, this could mean up to 2,2 million solar systems (<10 kW) on rooftops and thousands of bigger installations
Within the economic (i.e. feasible) potential, the installed capacity of solar plants could increase up to 3,5 GW in 2030 and 5,5 GW in 2040.
For the repeated startup of such constructions, however, bigger solar projects in the Czech Republic lack two basic things: Good laws and political support. The Czech Industry and Trade Ministry is currently drafting an amendment to the law on state-supported energy. After about a year of debate with experts, a bill has been drafted to introduce auctions for new renewable projects, inspired by a German law which began a very interesting reduction to the costs of new projects there, especially for photovoltaic parks. However, the Czech Industry and Trade Ministry bill does not count on auction opportunities for new solar parks.
According to associations of modern energy professionals, the Czech ministry’s move makes no sense. In the associations’ view, the law should be neutral with respect to technology. Moreover, it is exactly solar that has the greatest chance of offering consumers cheap electricity, which would be advantageous.
The same ministry is pushing the Czech Government to support new nuclear reactors, which are exponentially less advantageous than solar for consumers.
Unfortunately, chances to build new solar parks, whether located in brownfields or on the grounds of spacious industrial campuses, are also not part of the Czech climate-energy plan the Government is meant to send to the European Commission by the end of the year to present its strategy for fulfilling its emissions-reduction obligations by 2030. According to the versions of the plan that have leaked to date, the Industry Ministry only wants to support solar projects with a capacity of 30 kilowatts or less.
Despite these small steps forward, the Czech solar energy sector is still waiting for somebody with a clear political vision to arrive on the scene. For the time being the Industry Minister, Marta Nováková, unfortunately remains behind the current energy trends.