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Newly installed solar panels

Photo: Oliver Berg / dpa

If you want to buy a solar system, you are faced with a dilemma: Do you choose the cheapest possible model? And does it accept that, in case of doubt, the installed technology will come entirely from China, despite all the criticism of state-distorted competition and the risk of forced labor along the supply chain? Or do you pay a premium for photovoltaics (PV) made in Europe?

Even if Berlin and Brussels want to see more strategically important products for climate protection produced in Europe again in order to reduce dependencies on China, so far only a fraction of solar cells and modules are produced in this country. The company Meyer Burger, which operates such factories in East Germany, recently threatened to relocate its production to the USA.

Now Germany's largest solar service providers are taking a step towards the domestic solar industry. In a letter of intent handed over to Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck on Tuesday, the suppliers hold out the prospect of including "solar components from European production" in their offerings.

This is intended to help strengthen domestic manufacturers, according to the statement, which is available to SPIEGEL. To achieve this goal, the entire value chain must work together, says Sarah Müller, head of Berlin-based PV provider Zolar, which is one of the signatories. "With this voluntary commitment, we are making an important contribution to this."

Modules and inverters from Europe

However, the companies make no secret of the fact that this will only be "a part" of their components sold in the future. After all, the company wants to be able to "continue to expand solar energy quickly and on a large scale".

In order to counter this dichotomy, the companies want to proceed in several stages. From next year, they want to offer PV installations that at least contain modules and inverters from European production. Overall, however, the list of components used in solar systems is much longer. These include, for example, cells and silicon blocks, solar glass and fastening materials – all the way to battery storage systems, which are often installed together with PV systems.

The companies' promise is that from 2025 onwards, they will offer installations where at least three of the components were manufactured in Europe; In 2026, the lower limit is to rise to four parts. In any case, modules and inverters should be "made in Europe".

Among the signatories are the service providers 1Komma5° from Hamburg, Eigensonne, Enpal and Zolar from Berlin as well as Energiekonzepte Deutschland from Leipzig. Together, the companies employ more than 8000,<> people and have an annual turnover of more than one billion euros.

Record solar year in Germany

The announcement from the industry comes in a record year for solar expansion in Germany. Since the beginning of the year, new PV systems with a maximum output of 11.7 gigawatts (GW) have been installed nationwide, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems. This means that the federal government has exceeded its annual target of 9 GW.

However, the large supply of low-cost modules from China as well as the fierce price competition in the solar industry and politics are also causing concerns. Manufacturers who want to expand their production capacities in Europe are in a precarious situation, according to industry sources. Some parliamentarians and industry representatives are calling on the EU to take anti-dumping measures against China, up to and including the reintroduction of punitive tariffs on Chinese PV modules.

On Tuesday, the German Solar Industry Association (BSW Solar) appealed to the German government, in conjunction with other European countries, to "quickly take effective measures to secure and resettle the European solar industry". According to the association, these should provide the necessary investment impetus for the construction of solar gigawatt factories that are competitive on an international scale without creating new market barriers or trade restrictions. "A clear and binding signal to the solar industry that investments in Germany not only in solar plants, but also in the solar industry are worthwhile again, is long overdue," said BSW President Jörg Ebel.

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Cheap electricity: The German solar boom depends on China's drip – can that go well? By Henning Jauernig, Benedikt Müller-Arnold, Stefan Schultz and Gerald Traufetter

On the other hand, companies such as Enpal have warned against hasty protectionism. They see solar expansion and their own growth targets at risk. In addition, it would be more difficult for the government to keep its promise of cheap, renewable electricity if more and more expensive technology from Europe were to be used.