Intersolar Europe 2014, as trade shows so often are, was a fairly accurate yardstick of where the European solar market is right now.

On the downside, fickle policymakers and divisive trade disputes have stymied growth. Happily, new opportunities and new markets, even if they aren’t on the scale of boomtime behemoths like Spain and Greece, are coming to the fore.

Violent boom and bust periods could give way to a more sustainable ebb and flow of demand evened out across a number of more moderate-sized markets less reliant on generous subsidies that, in some instances, encouraged unmanageable growth.

PV Tech asked a series of industry executives at Intersolar Europe for their prognosis of the region’s PV market. So, is Europe back?

“I think so,” said Ajay K Goel, CEO, Tata Power Solar. “Europe had far too progressive policies and it created these cycles of boom and bust. But now I think Europe could be heading for a steady growth phase in most countries.”

Hui Wu, director of global marketing at panel maker and project developer Suntech recognised that spirit among visitors to the company’s booth.

“They are conservatively optimistic. This market hasn’t been good for at least two years. Most customers, like us, have suffered for the last few years but we all believe there is a future for the industry and we see signs of recovery. The mood is not very optimistic but there are early signs of recovery,” said Hui.

The European market does not exist in isolation and the rapid growth of markets in Asia and the US have chipped away at the footfall at Intersolar and the number of exhibitors in attendance. Data collected by PV Tech show the stead decline in exhibitor numbers since a peak in 2011.

“I feel that in the past Intersolar Europe was the epicenter of the entire PV industry. Now the other markets have their own regional shows,” said Jan-Marc Raitz, director of commercial management and EPC sales, IBC Solar.

“I’ve been really happy with the exhibition but I was a bit worried,” conceded Raitz.

Helping to allay those fears was the interest from new markets that offer experienced firms a chance to make an early impact.

“At this show I have had a lot of talks with customers from the Middle East, we want to develop that market. Last year we had good talks quality wise. In the years before that the quality was sometimes lower. Now as the PV industry is an established industry, there is a lot of serious interest,” he add.

CSUN’s EMEA marketing director Andrea Bodenhagen agreed.

“The show was better than expected. Given the situation in the market, particularly in Germany, we thought we would have far less visitors and less exhibitors but I was told there were still 1,100 exhibitors and we always had a full booth,” she said.

Bodenhagen also cements the broadening horizons of entrepreneurial firms that are refusing to let constraints in Europe constrain their ambition.

“We had a lot of interest from the Middle East and Africa and also a lot of European clients who are looking to work in other countries. A lot of our German customers are moving into Turkey, South America and the Middle East. Because the industry base isn’t there in these markets, they are started by European EPCs,” added Bodenhagen.

“This tie to the European market is still important to us, even if the final projects aren’t actually being done in Europe itself on the same scale,” she said.

The show took place against the backdrop of two major trade stories, first the announcement of preliminary anti-subsidy duties in the US and the EU ProSun’s allegation that a number Chinese manufacturers had been regularly breaching the EU minimum price agreement.

The consensus among people PV Tech spoke to on the matter was that trade disputes were regretfully a ubiquitous presence. One referred to it as “background noise” that didn’t detract from the main job at hand, conducting business.

With Europe easing through a transition period that will see post-subsidy projects emerging with greater frequency, the real growth opportunities for European firms may lie outside the EU. Much of that business is still likely to be done in the halls of Messe München. The show might not reach the heights of 2011 again, but if this means the violent boom and bust period is over too, you might not hear any complaints. 

The hordes descend on Intersolar Solar 2014. Source: Copyright Solar Promotion GmbH.

The hordes descend on Intersolar Solar 2014. Source: Copyright Solar Promotion GmbH.

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