The number of workers employed by the German PV industry fell by almost 50% last year, according to figures released on Monday by the German energy and economics ministry.

The federal ministry for economic affairs and energy’s statistics show that the PV industry’s workforce numbers in Germany fell from 100,300 people in 2012 to 56,000 in 2013.

In total, the ministry reported that around 371,400 people were employed in renewable energy in Germany. Of this figure, the ministry claims, 70.4%, or 261,500 jobs, can be directly attributed to the influence of the country’s renewable energy act (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz, EEG).

State secretary for energy and the economy Rainer Baake said that the statistics showed a previous boom period for PV to have not been sustainable and said that in future, managed ‘expansion corridors’ for renewable energy capacity would add a degree of security to the industry. Baake, a member of the Green Party, is the former head of an energy policy think tank and was also instrumental in drafting the original EEG legislation.

A full report has been posted in German on the ministry’s website on gross employment in the renewable energy industry. The report was put together collaboratively by the ministry and other organisations including the Centre for solar Energy and hydrogen Research Baden- Württemberg and the German Institute for Economic Research.

The report claimed that the decline in job numbers came as a consequence of lowered targets for PV installation and as such was not unexpected. It also says that a ‘boom’ scenario as seen in 2010 to 2012 is unlikely to happen again in light of this managed decline and also in light of gradually falling system costs. 

The report stated that reforms to the EEG, which are currently under discussion, are likely to have a further impact on job figures over the next two years. Developers and investors will have to change their approach to large-scale projects as subsidies are further degressed, while manufacturers will increasingly look to export their products to overseas markets and reduce their dependence on Germany, the ministry said.

The reforms include the idea touted by the ministry of economy and energy, and its head, Sigmar Gabriel, of applying surcharges for self-consumed PV energy, ostensibly to cover grid and service costs. The proposed charges have proved controversial, not least because heavy industrial users of energy are expected to be exempted from the charges for economic reasons.

In addition, the report referred to new business models emerging in the domestic market, such as optimising self-consumption from residential rooftop PV businesses. The country launched its first subsidy scheme for lithium-ion battery storage systems for residential PV plant owners just over a year ago, resulting in 4,000 new storage systems being installed from May 2013 to the equivalent period this year.

Recent statistics from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that in 2013, around 6.5 million people worldwide were employed by the renewable energy industries.