An employee of Meyer Burger at the Freiberg plant: In Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, the Swiss company produces solar cells and modules
Photo: Hendrik Schmidt / dpa
For Gunter Erfurt (48), head of solar cell manufacturer Meyer Burger, it's all or nothing in the coming week. On Wednesday, it will become clear whether the traffic light coalition will do everything it can to keep the production of the traditional Swiss company in Germany – or whether it will let the manufacturer migrate. For months, CEO Erfurt has been hoping for commitments to strengthen his industry. "We and, of course, all companies in the domestic solar industry are finally expecting a clear statement as to whether and in what final form the Bundestag will decide to create a resilience segment in the German solar market," Erfurt told manager magazin. Behind this neologism is a special bonus to promote the European solar industry: It could flow under the condition that components from Europe are installed. Most recently, the SPD and the Greens were in favour, the FDP against.
On Wednesday, the Federal Government's Committee on Climate Protection and Energy will discuss this in the Bundestag. The reason for this is an amendment to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). "Decisions have been announced for months, but unfortunately they are still pending due to the budget crisis. We therefore expect at least a clear and reliable signal, but ideally an unambiguous decision. Especially since we know that all traffic light parties as well as the CDU/CSU support the issue in principle," says the Meyer Burger boss.
Hoping for clear funding commitments:Gunter Erfurt, CEO of Meyer Burger
Photo: Simon Kremer / dpa
At stake is nothing less than the resettlement and safeguarding of the solar industry in Germany. Meyer Burger is Europe's only remaining solar cell manufacturer since Chinese companies took over the world market at low prices thanks to massive government subsidies from Beijing.
Meyer Burger is also threatening to abandon the expansion of its solar cell production in Thalheim in Saxony-Anhalt and instead invest in the USA, where massive subsidies are tempting.
"We need fair market conditions"
"All we and the entire solar industry need are fair market conditions, which do not exist in Europe at the moment. The necessary instruments for this have been intensively discussed at European and national level for almost a year, and I think they are extremely clever – also in response to the US Inflation Reduction Act," says Erfurt. Specifically, according to the CEO, there is a need for "initial investment incentives" through the "resilience segment" as well as one-off investment support that could ensure a rapid ramp-up of capacities.
In the USA, the solar cell manufacturer has already strengthened its production capacities. In Goodyear, Arizona, Meyer Burger is currently building a plant with a capacity of two gigawatts. "The plant will contribute to the expansion of the U.S. solar industry and create over 500 skilled manufacturing jobs," the company said in June. One of the customers is wholesaler BayWa r.e., which has signed a long-term purchase agreement for solar cells from the production facility.
Increase from 1.4 to 15 gigawatts planned
The company, which was founded in 1953 and has an annual turnover of just under 150 million Swiss francs (153.6 million euros) and around 1000 employees, develops solar cells and modules in Switzerland and has so far manufactured them in Germany. In Saxony-Anhalt, where Meyer Burger employs around 350 people, production capacity is expected to increase from the current 1.4 gigawatts per year to around 15 gigawatts by 2027. But because of the massive U.S. subsidies, Erfurt is questioning this project and at the same time examining the expansion of capacities in the U.S. The U.S. subsidies are only available to those who also manufacture their products locally. According to Erfurt, the company will receive 110 million dollars per year for one gigawatt of solar cells and solar modules in the USA – until 2029.
A few months ago, Meyer Burger caused a particular stir with a letter to Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner (44; FDP), in which the company threatened to move out of Germany. "In the U.S., the red carpet is being rolled out for us to relocate plants and sell solar panels," the letter said.
For CEO Erfurt, time is of the essence: "At the climate summit in Dubai, the Chancellor said that the expansion of renewable energies must be three times as fast by 2030 as it has been so far. We stand ready for it, in the U.S. and Germany and elsewhere. The climate crisis cannot be delayed." In view of the still existing technological leadership in Europe, the industry could grow here and create many highly qualified jobs – unless the opposite has to happen through "political omission".