– We will have around DKK 350 million in revenue this year. It is not unlikely that we could end up at well over a billion next year – if we manage to recruit enough people, says managing director Carl Christian Strømberg at Solcellespesialisten.
The Norwegian solar energy industry is experiencing its best period yet. Business and private customers are queuing up to have solar cells installed on the roof, and soon, hill-mounted systems will also be fully booked.
The industry’s biggest challenges are hiring new employees quickly enough – the supply of solar panels and other necessary equipment is good.
Steaming fresh highs obtained from Elhub, which NVE has made available to Energy and Climate, document the accelerating growth this year right up until the end of September. So far this year, 98.6 megawatts (MW) of new capacity has been registered in Elhub. This is over twice as much as was installed in the whole of last year – and over three times as much if you compare the first months of 2021 and 2022.
September 2022 was the best month in the Norwegian solar energy market. In total, at the end of this month, Norway has a capacity of 250 MW, according to the Elhub data. Around 40 percent of this has therefore been installed this year.
The data from Elhub is not currently used directly in public statistics, and work is underway to create a good system around the presentation of the data, says chief engineer Jarand Hole in NVE. The figures may differ somewhat from what is available from other statistics, but the Elhub data is, in advance, the best data basis for the solar power market.
What drives growth?
Several point to the high electricity prices in three price areas as an obvious driver behind the large growth this year.
– Electricity prices have been a very important reason why there is now a boom. A big driver in Europe, and perhaps also in Norway, I think is that people feel the need to be self-sufficient, says managing director Trine Kopstad Berentsen in the Solar Cluster.
She also points out that in February Enova increased the subsidy rates for solar power plants for private individuals.
– You don’t need to subsidize solar cells on commercial buildings and larger buildings, because it is profitable in itself. But for single-family homes it is still a big investment, so the support scheme that Enova came up with up to DKK 47,000 was probably an important driver for many to start, she says.
Another indicator of growth is the amount of power that is fed into the grid from plus customers – i.e. electricity customers who produce electricity. Plus customers cover production from both private individuals and companies. Single larger plant is not included.
However, this is just the net production of solar power, since the figures do not include the power that Plus customers use themselves, “before” the meter. NVE is working with a new, detailed calculation method to estimate gross production, informs Jarand Hole. Figures on installed power from Elhub must be combined with value data and information on where the municipality’s plant is installed.
Must be patient
The sudden increase in interest leads to longer waiting times to have solar cells installed. Waiting times vary. For single-family homes, the Solar Cluster estimates nine months in Oslo and six months in Agder. There is a shorter delivery time for commercial buildings.
Strømberg i Solcellespesialisten operates with a waiting time of between five and six months for single-family homes and down to a few weeks for commercial buildings.
– With a huge plant of many megawatts, you probably have to wait until January-February before we start up, but the average plant we install for industry is 200 kilowatts, and we can take that on with a few weeks’ notice, says Strømberg.
The industry is now waiting for the effect of the scheme with power support for companies, which the government recently presented, solar cells being one of the initiatives that trigger support. The number of inquiries has increased, but the orders will not come until the details of the scheme are known.
Ground-mounted plants – projects are being prepared
Solar cells have so far been almost exclusively hosted on roofs, but soon there will also be more hill-mounted systems in Norway. These must have a license from NVE, which has so far approved three plants. Several more license applications are being prepared. The solar energy cluster has its own professional group with 8-10 companies that work with hill-mounted projects, Kopstad Berentsen says.
– After all, it is ready-made projects that will deliver applications for concessions. We are working with a supervisor who will come later in the harvest, who will become an industry standard for tray mounted, she says.
Strømberg in the Solar Cell Specialist says he knows of projects totaling as much as 500 MW that will be applied for in the near future – in that case twice as much as all solar power capacity in Norway today.
This is what the composition of the plant looked like at the turn of the last year.
Norconsult has created an overview of the ten largest the Norwegian solar power plants.
Looking after the neighbours
With this year’s growth, Norway has joined the same trend as in Europe. In Scandinavia, Sweden and Denmark are far ahead of the Norwegian market. Sweden is four to five years ahead of Norway in development, also on hill-mounted plants, estimates Kopstad Berentsen.
Denmark and Sweden are also reporting a hot market.
- “Solar cell boom”: The capacity of solar cells increased by 20 percent in the second quarter, tweeted Denmark’s climate and energy minister Dan Jørgensen a few days ago. The figures from the Danish Energy Agency shows that in the second quarter of 2022 alone, 385 MW of new capacity was connected to the power grid – i.e. far above Norway’s total capacity today.
- According to a forecast from the industry organization Swedish Solar Energy, around 900 MW of new plants will be installed in 2022.
- In Sweden, interest is now so great that any of the major players have stopped accepting new orders, reports Swedish Radio. Vattenfall, Fortum and Bixia will first get rid of the queues. The companies report waiting times of 6-8 months.
- A number of new, large tray-mounted plants of a total of 500 MW is planned in southern Sweden. The companies behind will invest over DKK 3 billion.
Good access to equipment – labor is a challenge
The solar energy industry reports having good access to equipment, including solar panels and other necessary equipment. But prices have increased. According to Strømberg in Solcellespecialisten, the cheapest system for commercial buildings has reached 50 percent more expensive in 2019. For single-family homes, the increase is even greater.
The industry’s biggest challenges are finding enough labour.
– The companies that deliver cannot, after all, manage to increase their capacity tenfold overnight. Well, we need all electricians and others with professional certificates to turn around and make contact. We also believe that more companies, such as electrical companies, will include solar in their portfolio and start offering it. We believe this will resolve itself in the long run, says Kopstad Berentsen.
The most difficult thing now is to recruit civil engineers for project management positions, Strømberg states. The situation for installers – electricians, carpenters and roofers – is better.
A similar situation is being reported from other European countries: Solar cell material is piling up in storage, writes Bloomberg. European companies have bought in large numbers, but lack people to assemble.
Scenarios and theoretical potential
How big will solar power be in Norway? Last year, NVE made calculations of the market for its long-term power market analysis for 2021-40. In a base scenario, NVE ended up with a capacity of 700 MW in Norway in 2025 and 1800 in 2030. The analysis was therefore made before the price of electricity went through the roof.
But how big is the theoretical, technical potential for solar power? Multiconsult has calculated this in one report that the Solar Energy Cluster recently published. The consulting company comes to the conclusion that the production potential is greater than today’s total production of hydro and wind power.
Multiconsult has «simply» focused on the potential of using construction and «grey areas» – that is, areas where natural interventions have already been carried out. This concerns agricultural land that is out of operation, parking lots and completed landfills.
The technical potential for construction alone – roof and facade – is 87,000 MW.
Here, the potential is distributed across the country’s five electricity price areas and compared with today’s actual expansion.