10 November 2005


Interview with Gerd Heilscher; CEO of MeteoControl

In a relatively short period you seem to have created a strong position in the market looking at PV system monitoring? What is the key competence of MeteoControl and what are its Unique Selling Points?

Personally, I have always seen photovoltaic systems as a substantial future energy source. Already in the research and demonstration phase where system monitoring was at a price level of the cost of a full residential PV system today, we focused on the development of cost effective services. Most market actors worked on system development and installation, we, instead, start when the switch is turned on and the PV system has to run for the coming twenty to thirty years. With almost 30 years’ experience in system monitoring and more than 10 years in photovoltaics, we have been able to develop services that automatically check the performance of thousands of systems. The concept adapts to the size of the system and, therefore, can also be used for a 1 kWp up to a 10 MWp system. These services, on the other hand, are also very useful for the marketing needs of our partners. Today more than half a million modules and 10,000 inverters are connected to our SaferSUN service which reflects about 10% of the PV capacity installed in Germany today.


What will be the strategy of MeteoControl in terms of products and markets (looking at the increasing number of feed-in tariff systems in Europe)?

Based on our SaferSUN Partner concept, we spread our products through our inverter and system integrator sales partners to all emerging markets. We will establish local subsidiaries in Spain and the USA to also ensure we have a close relation to our SaferSUN partners locally. Only minor modifications to our products are required with regard to the European markets.


Since you are involved in many different projects, could you define market trends in PV applications?

Project developers for PV systems are creative people. Also, it seems that feed-in tariffs have become a standard. There are differences in each country that affect both the technical and financial project design. The photovoltaic system is becoming more and more a financial product. With the PV industry reports from leading banks, photovoltaic has at last become accepted as a industry. With the growth of the PV market, new actors are also tapping into the module and inverter business. A new level of prefabrication has been reached with the SolarOptimal and the Solon Mover, a 2-axis tracking system produced on industrial standards.



What are the trends in PV system-monitoring technology if you consider the rapid developments in ICT (UMTS, cable, ....)

We already decided more than five years ago to focus on Internet-based communications. Even today only a very few market actors are really able to easily make use of this data transmission medium, which is the cheapest option, apart from our SaferSUN service. Decentralised, or local, monitoring devices connected via Internet to a central server will became the accepted standard solution. Effective performance monitoring is the essential part to secure the return of the huge investments that have been and will be made in photovoltaic systems. Step-by-step industrial standards will be used more and more after proprietary solutions from each inverter manufacturer. RS485 communication, which comes with almost all inverters today, will be replaced by Ethernet, Bluetooth or WLAN communication capabilities tomorrow. On the marketing side, this will lead to direct communication from your PALM or mobile phone with your PV system, which we have demonstrated already at the Intersolar Fair at Freiburg.


Being involved in system monitoring should teach you a lot about system/inverter quality and maintenance. Do you have any tips for the industry?

Compared to the systems and inverters 10 years ago, the quality has increased substantially. As with the feed-in tariff systems, time is limited and each single day counts for the rate of return that I get on my investment in a PV system. With our SaferSUN service we have established very sophisticated routines to detect breakdowns or performance losses as quickly as possible. Installers and inverter manufacturers should ensure they focus on providing higher operation and maintenance service levels to ensure fast replacement of faulty parts.


What are your PV market expectations for Germany next year and worldwide in general?


We have to face the regular reduction of the feed-in tariffs in 2006 together with constant or even rising module prices. The rate of return related to big systems out in the field, in particular, will no longer be interesting to investors. Therefore, I expect the German market to be approximately 500 MW. The total module production capacity has also passed the 1GW line and substantial market growth on the worldwide market still depends on very few silicon production facilities. Decisions taken to solve this today will not be effective before 2007.


Thank you for the interview!

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