The steep rise in electricity and gas prices has plunged the Czech Republic into solar fever. Thousands of people are looking for photovoltaic panels for their roofs. Over 9,300 solar power plants were added in the first six months of this year, more than in the entire year of 2021.
However, according to Jan Krčmář, director of the Solar Association, a faster “energy revolution” in the Czech Republic is hindered by a number of obstacles.
“We are catching up with what we should have built in the last few years,” he says in an interview for Seznam Zprávy.
How is people’s record interest in photovoltaics showing up in your industry right now?
Household interest exceeds market supply. This mainly concerns installation companies, installers of photovoltaic panels, so there are longer waiting times. It started already last fall, when electricity prices rose significantly for the first time.
And how does the increased interest translate into the wait times you mentioned?
They are in the order of several months, even half a year. It can be a problem to find an installation company that has time to attend to the demand right away. We know of companies that welcome you on their websites with the excuse that they can’t keep up. In the Czech Republic, we hardly built anything in this field for several years, now the interest in photovoltaics has really exploded.
We also see this positively in that new companies are being established and there are also long professional exam periods for installation companies and qualified personnel. The market is gradually replenished. I have a feeling that anyone who understands a bit of electrical engineering is taking exams to be able to install solar panels. Every week, new companies apply for membership in our Solar Association.
At the same time, however, you point out that this boom mainly concerns family homes. What is holding back the joint owners of panel houses or apartment buildings in a similar spread?
This is prevented by the current system of setting tariffs for prefab houses. But the Energy Regulatory Office is already working on a new one that will allow people to share electricity from common photovoltaics. It should be valid from the new year.
Do the members of the association notice a greater interest in photovoltaics from joint property owners?
Certainly. In general, we advise joint owners to choose an installation company, submit an application, but wait for the mentioned new tariff system.
What not to forget when considering photovoltaics
- Consider whether the location and shape of the roof are suitable for solar panels.
- Photovoltaics is not suitable for everyone, it depends on the energy consumption of the household.
- Expect waiting periods of several months.
- To summarize how the household draws energy during the day. For example, an electric car charger makes no sense if household members are at work during the day when the sun is shining and want to charge in the evening.
- Photovoltaic batteries or a heat pump and associated equipment take up space, for example a technical room is suitable.
- Get as much information as possible before ordering. For example, the YouTube channels Electro Dad, Amperak and Teslacek Aitacek helped Bacovský.
So how will the tariffs change?
In the current system, photovoltaics are common, but each apartment has its own energy supplier with its own electricity meter. A classic example: photovoltaics produce during the day. You have a family that is home during the day with the children. Then you have a working family without children or students who are more active at night. Until now, it has been a problem to find out to whom and under what conditions to supply energy from photovoltaics. For example, a family without children can say: “Why should I buy electricity more expensively in the evening when the sun is no longer shining?” The roof is mine too.’
It was therefore difficult to estimate how to supply electricity from photovoltaics to whom and under what conditions. So far, in the small number of apartment buildings with photovoltaics, it has worked so that the solar source covers the common areas so that the owners do not have to fight.
And will the new tariff resolve these contradictions?
I’m going to simplify it a lot. It will no longer be so complicated to budget for electricity, and most importantly, households will be largely exempt from distribution fees for the electricity they purchase from solar. Consumption from photovoltaics will be easier to calculate.
Video series about home photovoltaics
The association also complains that development is hindered by rigid legislation. In what specifically?
There are several areas. A common larger domestic power plant with a power of 10 kilowatts or more needs a special license from the Energy Regulatory Office, which may discourage many clients. Larger power plants with greater supply of surpluses to the grid will be the basis of community energy. People will then share electricity.
For small power plants, it is also necessary to increase the limit for the necessity of a building permit. The limit is now 20 kilowatts, it should be increased to at least 50. Up to this value, the builder would not need a permit. We register a huge number of companies planning their own power plants and thousands of applications, which we believe can overwhelm the building authorities. We have information from politicians that this could soon increase. But we have been waiting for implementation for several months now.
And what are the other barriers?
Those that prevent the construction of large central sources, not only solar, but perhaps wind. Not everyone can install photovoltaics. Even with panel houses, we must not forget that the ratio of roof area to consumption is significantly smaller for each family than in single-family houses. People in apartment buildings are so upset that we don’t have new cheap sources that supply cheap electricity. This is hindered by spatial plans for such resources, the problem with permitting connections and also certain problems in the area of building permits.
So you appeal for legislative changes as soon as possible.
We need politicians and officials to recognize the urgency of the situation. Countries such as Germany, but also Romania, are pushing for rapid changes. Unfortunately, we have fallen asleep in the Czech Republic. Previous governments completely missed the development of new cheap sources of electricity and concentrated on exemptions for heating plants and the fight against solar barons. Here we could have solar and wind farms in auctions that would produce energy at a fixed price and with an upper limit. We are now trying to catch up with these leftovers.
We have been in discussions with the relevant government departments for several months now, and given the electricity prices and the war in Ukraine, we thought that the effort to present the changes would be as fast as possible, this year. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to make it this year. The Czech Republic fell asleep. We believe that the government will push through the changes at least at the end of this year so that we can build new low-cost power plants at least next year.
Will the new construction law solve the problems?
We often hear that we should wait for him. However, it may not be valid until the middle of 2024. The changes will therefore be written in perhaps only in 2025, and new projects will take place in perhaps four years. The installation of a small company power plant itself can take several days, weeks. When you wait half a year for a building permit, the company pays very expensive electricity every day. Each such day of waiting is very long.
Larger power plants often request changes to the zoning plan, because of course you have to build where it shines or blows. It is necessary for municipalities to understand that they are the key to making electricity cheaper.
In our opinion, the best solution is for the municipalities themselves to determine the areas where, according to them, new renewable resources should be created. That’s how Germany does it, for example. Wind farms, for example, often run into problems with zoning changes, which is a very problematic process for investors because it is purely political.
This also applies to agrophotovoltaics, which combine the production of electricity with the cultivation of agricultural crops. Why can’t they be built here yet?
You are now not allowed to build on farmland. If you remove land from the agricultural land fund, you cannot grow on it again. The law should solve this problem. The technology works, for example, in the Netherlands, Italy, France and other countries. Here, too, there is great interest from both farmers and the State Environmental Fund, which would support these efforts.
An amendment to the Act on the Protection of Agricultural Land Funds is currently being prepared, which would enable agrophotovoltaics. Let’s hope it comes to a successful conclusion. We have a unique chance to help the agrarian system of agriculture, which has high energy consumption. In this way, we can protect ourselves against climate change. Photovoltaics helps some plants by shading them and retaining water in the heat.
How big of a problem is the historic preservation of buildings for the faster uptake of photovoltaics?
Unfortunately, a big one. Memorialists are suddenly inundated with requests. Unfortunately, there is no uniform procedure where, for example, the National Institute of Monuments would establish, for example, ten conditions, upon the fulfillment of which construction can be carried out.
Today there are technologies with colored panels, panels without frames. We see that corporate power plants are not allowed on the roofs of buildings from the 1970s, for example on supermarkets. Sometimes the installation company will reject the request because the power plant would be visible from the plane. Unfortunately, I have no understanding of this.
We need to realize now as a society what weighs more on us. Whether views of the solar system from church towers, or the threat of the collapse of industrial companies.
Are we still lagging behind in something in the pan-European comparison?
The Czech Code still does not recognize the concept of electricity accumulation. Last year, there was a chance to enact the concept, but it ran into opposition from the lobby of senior energy industry representatives. They are afraid of cheaper competition. Unfortunately, it is very problematic for companies to build a large central battery.
The Energy Authority complains that the prices for so-called support services that could be provided by large battery storage facilities are high. We are definitely lagging behind there. And also in the whole view. For ten years, governments focused on fighting the solar barons and failed to understand that it would be better to concentrate on new sources. We’re just catching up now.
The association also criticizes the phase-by-phase consumption measurement system, which it says makes domestic photovoltaic systems significantly more expensive and only works in two other countries in the world. What don’t you like?
When measuring by phases, for example, in family houses, photovoltaics produce and you consume electricity on one phase, and you supply the rest to the grid. But it may happen that at the same time you are drawing electricity from the grid for a particular appliance. In other countries, you supply one kilowatt and take one kilowatt, which equals zero – you pay nothing. But the situation is different with us and you pay extra.
It has several problems. It extends the return on investment, but the system also charges special types of inverters, which are called asymmetric. They are produced exclusively in China, and large European manufacturers, some of which produce components directly in the Czech Republic, have a disadvantage in our market.
We know how unstrategic it is to depend on one single country. In the solar industry, there is a great effort to return production capacities to Europe. We know that investors want to produce panels in the Czech Republic as well. The government could only help this by changing the decree.