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Hardly any solar modules on public buildings

Photovoltaic systems are a common sight on new residential buildings. But the state, of all things, has not only set a bad example with its own new buildings.

Less than a year ago, the new building for the small animal and bird clinic at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen was officially opened. However, there is no photovoltaic system on the modern building that could supply electricity for self-consumption. When planning 15 years ago, solar fell into the “nice to have” category, explains Susanne Kraus, Chancellor of the University of Giessen: “When money was tight, this was the first thing to be canceled.” In the future, every new building will be planned with a PV system, and existing buildings will be retrofitted.

The situation is similar 60 kilometers further at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. According to the university, “building regulations” have meant that even recently constructed buildings do not have a PV system on the roof. We regret that very much and will do it differently in the future.

Expansion goals by 2030

In the past, the state has not been a good role model when it comes to PV expansion on public buildings, says Claudia Kemfert, energy expert at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). A lot of potential has been wasted here so far. Because the roofs of public buildings usually have large areas, they are particularly suitable for generating solar power.

The federal government wants to expand photovoltaic output to 215 gigawatts by 2030. One half on roofs, the other half in the area. According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, public buildings have a potential of 8.4 gigawatts. This means that state buildings could contribute around eight percent to the planned PV expansion on roofs. In many cases, the electricity does not have to be fed into the power grid at all, as public buildings usually have high internal consumption.

Dirk Sohn, mayor of Lütjenburg near the Baltic Sea coast, now knows why expansion in a municipality can fail despite all efforts. On the one hand, no structural engineer can be found there to inspect the roof of the municipal building yard. On the other hand, modules are installed on the sewage treatment plant, but cannot be connected to the network. “I don’t know who to be mad at,” said the CDU politician. There are so many actors involved and in the end no specific contact person.

This is what happens to many thwarted makers in the municipalities. “I can totally understand the frustration,” says energy expert Kemfert. There are simply too many obstacles.

Bureaucratic hurdles

Those responsible have just encountered a new obstacle at the University of Kassel. When it comes to solar, the university is considered exemplary and had the first systems installed in 2008. But the new PV system is not allowed to go into operation. “We can’t switch on,” says university chancellor Oliver Fromm. “Because we first have to purchase a certificate for 20,000 euros.”

This certificate is created by experts who are lacking everywhere. The required certificate is also “nonsense” because the electricity is not fed into the public grid. “You feel slowed down.” It is completely unclear when the new system will deliver the first electricity.

Solar package is a long time coming

The federal government's new solar package could probably solve the problem with the certificate. But contrary to planning, the law was not passed last year.

Kemfert is nevertheless convinced that PV expansion on state roofs will be faster, at least in the future. The state has created far too many bureaucratic hurdles for itself in the past. “But they are now being eliminated piece by piece,” said Kemfert.

Then there could be more PV systems on public buildings, and at the same time the expansion plans of private individuals and companies would make progress. When it comes to the energy transition, the state could then fulfill the exemplary role that it has so far failed to live up to, clearly visible on many roofs.

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