Conergy AG is one of the leading international suppliers in the field of solar system integration. The Germany-based company produces, installs and plans solar systems for its customers in more than 20 countries. Conergy AG CEO Dieter Ammer speaks about the company’s successful business and activities and its plan for the future.
Dieter Ammer CEO, Conergy AG
Reported by Amanda Kim (email@example.com)
You are one of the leading suppliers of products and solutions in the field of solar power generation. What are the main activities of Conergy? And what are your main products and solutions? And how are they competitive?
Conergy is one of the biggest solar energy companies in Europe with more than 10 years of solar experience. We are also the only company on the market that can actually do everything. We combine modules, inverters and racks optimally--and offer perfect systems from one source that are made in Germany. We are project developers, financiers and installers. We supply turnkey solutions, from barn-top systems to megawatt plants. Why are our products competitive?--because we define ourselves in terms of efficiency, quality, longevity and customer satisfaction, instead of merely in terms of a good price. In a nutshell, because we deliver what we promise, now and in the future.
Please introduce the company’s history and process of growth. And what is your philosophy?
Conergy is a pioneer in the solar industry. We have more than 10 years of solar experience and more than 10,000 customers. Around the world, we have sold almost 1 GW of solar energy. During this time, we have experienced periods of incredible growth, full of youthful zeal and unbridled energy. The end of 2007, however, showed us that we had grown too quickly, too wildly and too enthusiastically. We are now emerging from this period strengthened and with our feet firmly on the ground.
We matured long before the global economic crisis descended. This forced many of our competitors to undergo painful restructuring--which they are still battling against. Our philosophy has remained the same throughout the years: “our world is full of energy”--all we have to do is use it. Conergy aims to open up this energy for its own and its customers’ use.
You have just opened a 4.2 MW solar Photovoltaic (PV) facility and it is the largest in northern Germany. Please tell our readers more about this project.
We are delighted with our new photovoltaic plant in Horup. We have not only built the largest photovoltaic plant in northern Germany, the project was also recently awarded the title of “Energy District of the Month” because Horup now produces far more energy than it needs. What’s more, there’s a thaw in the north! Conergy’s photovoltaic plant in Horup is the best indication that solar energy pays off in Germany’s far north too--and represents a fallback for farmers threatened by falling milk prices.
You recently built one of the largest solar parks on the east coast of the U.S. Aqua Pennsylvania is now using it to provide cheaper fresh drinking water for the region. Tell us about it. Are there any new projects in the pipeline for 2010?
The energy revolution in the U.S. has now been accepted by energy and water suppliers too--and they are finally turning green. The best example of this is indeed Aqua Pennsylvania, which with our 1.1 MW photovoltaic plant will not only be producing clean drinking water with clean electricity in future, but will also save tens of thousands of dollars a year into the bargain.
There are a great many new and attractive projects in the Conergy pipeline: more solar parks, not only in the U.S. but in Europe and Asia too, will follow in 2010.
What are Conergy’s short-term and long-term planning and strategies in terms of sales and marketing?
In future, we will focus more of our attention on optimizing our products and on technological integration between modules, rack systems and inverters so as to fully exploit all possible efficiency gains. For us, quality, longevity and ease of handling are at the forefront. After all, the Conergy brand stands for quality “Made in Germany”--in other words, reliability and technical excellence.
As CEO of one of the world’s leading solar companies, how exactly do you spend your days?
Talks with employees and customers are my current focus. Now that the major phase of reorganization is over, in a world of boundless possibilities where all alternative energies present business opportunities, the CEO’s main task is to focus the company on its core areas so that the opportunities offered by photovoltaics can be exploited in all their myriad forms.
What will be the business focus of Conergy in 2010?
To retain our dominant position in the many markets, we operate in today. As a major player in this industry, we aim to retain customer proximity and the excellent advice we offer and to continue to expand in many markets and sectors. The international markets continue to develop extremely dynamically and flexibly. Countries open up and close in the wake of changing subsidy schemes, a process that requires constant adaptation on our part.
What do you see as the major obstacles standing in the way of meeting the requirements of the market, from domestic to utility-scale solar power applications?
I see three big obstacles in this area. The first is that the solar industry is within sight of the finish line. As a result of the steady reduction in the cost of solar energy systems and the permanent rise in electricity tariffs in some markets, we will achieve network parity in 2012. In other words, we will be producing solar energy at the same price as power from the mains. To do this, we will need solar promotion schemes for the foreseeable future. Politicians must continue to gauge the situation to ensure that we can reach these goals.
The second is that anyone relying on subsidies now and halting research and investments will fail to further improve the quality of their products--and will consequently be left by the wayside. Conergy already offers premium quality at a good price. We aim to do this in future too by way of intensive investments, further development and cost-cutting activities.
Last but not least, the solar energy market must get going again in a sustainable manner--even in the area of large projects. This is where the banks have a role to play since they caused the economic crisis in the first place. They were rescued with money from taxes--in other words with our money--but with a clear duty to grant loans and get the economy moving. After their rescue, however, many banks have become extremely tight-fisted, much to the detriment of large parts of the industry and indeed large solar projects. Willing investors with capital have lacked outside funding. And yet there is hardly a more secure investment category than photovoltaic plants. Although the situation is getting better, there’s definitely room for improvement.
How has the culture of the solar industry changed since you founded Conergy in 1998?
When we founded Conergy at the end of the 1990s, the sector was far from the public gaze and more suited to idealists and those looking to improve the world. Growing environmental awareness among the public then led to a rise in the appreciation and success of the solar industry. The idealists became pioneers--or were superseded by the latter. Huge growth, an immense desire for innovation and IPOs were the consequence, with all signs and results pointing to a boom of excessive dimensions. Startups became company groups, although most of them lacked the corporate structure needed to manage their meteoric growth.
Today, reality has overtaken the solar industry and companies have been forced to mature. We have not lost our idealism in this process, but have matured into an industry that needs to be taken seriously. In our nascent stage, the electricity suppliers’ lobby called us dreamers. But the here and now shows that the real dreamers are those who still rely on raw materials which, if we carry on as we are, will have long since disappeared by the time their children reach retirement...
Please tell us briefly about Conergy Pty Ltd, the Australian subsidiary of Conergy AG, established in January 2005. And do you have any plans for more subsidiaries?
Australia is a small solar energy market, but is nonetheless one with strong growth. Our Conergy colleagues there never fail to amaze us with their hands-on approach to getting things done and solving problems. They are successful unconventional thinkers in our group, active in a market that still has some surprises in store and on which we are continuing to build.
Besides Australia, we are active in another 13 countries over four continents, including all core markets in photovoltaics. We want to concentrate on these markets and develop them.
Who are your potential customers in your market and what do you do to reach them? And what is your target market in terms of geographic?
With our wide range of expertise, we naturally reach a wide range of customers. We deliver all the components required for a solar energy system to wholesalers. To installers we supply these components and complete kits and services. Our experienced Conergy engineers plan and install solar energy systems from 500 kW for future system operators. And for big investors’ missions traders, family offices and energy suppliers--we design, finance and install solar parks in the megawatt range with no upper limits set. While we can do all this in all our countries, we are particularly strong in Germany, Italy, the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region.
Last, but not least, how will Conergy keep its leading position in solar system integration?
Above all by looking after our customers and meeting their constantly increasing requirements. Our leading position depends on our ability to adapt quickly and optimally to continually changing market conditions, meeting them as they arise with prescience. The markets in which the photovoltaics industry operates breathe in quick succession and at varying intensities. Herein lies the challenge for us and all our competitors.
Amanda Kim is Senior Editor of InterPV. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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