Photovoltaic systems: what to look out for in “balcony power plants”.

Photovoltaic systems: what to look out for in

Install a photovoltaic system on the balcony, connect it to the socket and thus supply some of your household appliances with climate-neutral electricity practically free of charge: This is possible with a so-called balcony power plant. With the recently adopted solar package, the federal government wants to reduce bureaucracy and improve the legal situation for plug-in solar devices, as they are officially called. This is intended to accelerate the expansion of solar energy in Germany.

“Total Boom” at “balcony power plants” this year

“Balcony power plants” are already extremely popular. “There is a total boom that continues,” says the Federal Network Agency with a view to the number of registered devices. The Bonn authorities assume that there are currently around 288,000 PV systems on balconies in Germany. At the beginning of July there were still around 230,000. Of these alone, 137,000 were put into operation in the current year.

In fact, there could be even more. According to earlier information from the Federal Network Agency, there are tens of thousands of other systems in the market master data register with an output of less than one kilowatt, of which it is not clear whether they are also “balcony power plants”. In addition, there is a fairly large number of unreported cases, adds Sören Demandt, an energy expert at the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer center, in an interview tagesschau.de.

Because contrary to the legal requirements, not all systems are noted in the system of the Federal Network Agency. “As with photovoltaics, the demand for plug-in solar devices has increased significantly in recent years,” reports the consumer advocate. The planned simplifications of the traffic light coalition are also a reason for the growing interest.

For whom is a “balcony power plant”?

From the point of view of the consumer advice center, there are three requirements for households to purchase a power plant on the balcony or terrace. “The location for the installation should not be in the shade, the device must be securely fastened and there must be a socket outside for the power supply,” says Demandt. In addition, tenants are currently still obliged to obtain the consent of the owner. However, the federal government wants to change that too.

According to the German Solar Industry Association (BSW), plug-in solar systems are available from specialist photovoltaic retailers, solar installers and online retailers. “Meanwhile, the devices are even sold in hardware stores and discounters,” says expert Demandt. There are also purchasing groups organized by solar groups. When buying from a discounter, due to the relatively small supply and the lack of advice, attention must be paid to the right fastening material.

According to the consumer center, a plug-in solar device with a standard module and an output of 200 to 400 watts costs between 350 and 600 euros. With two modules, the price increases to up to 1,000 euros. A plus point for consumers: since January 1, 2023, there is no sales tax for these products. In addition, more and more municipalities, districts, federal states and regional associations are subsidizing plug-in solar devices under certain conditions.

federal Association solar economy expects falling prices and no delivery problems

BSW emphasizes that the costs for plug-in solar devices vary depending on the range of accessories, the performance of the solar modules and inverters and the quality of the components. In the long term, the association predicts lower prices as soon as the components are produced in larger quantities and competition among suppliers increases.

The industry apparently does not expect any restrictions on delivery. “We have no information about longer waiting times,” says BSW general manager Carsten Körnig tagesschau.de. The essential components of the systems are regularly available again.

After the purchase, two more registrations are currently required: with the local electricity network operator and in the market master register at the Federal Network Agency. “It is important when registering that the data given is identical because it is compared in the background,” explains consumer advocate Demandt. This process will also become easier in the future: Registration with the Federal Network Agency should soon be sufficient and simpler.

plug-in solar device covers annual consumption of two household appliances

“The great charm of these plug-in solar systems is the mechanical attachment – with a suitable set, that’s more or less plug and play,” says Demandt. The electrical part of the installation is more critical. In the best case, there is already an outside socket and a state-of-the-art electrical system. “Then it’s no problem to put the whole thing into operation yourself,” says the expert. To do this, the device simply has to be plugged into the socket. However, if a new one needs to be installed or an old one needs to be replaced, it is necessary to consult experts.

“After installation, the device simply remains plugged in and continuously supplies power directly to the grid,” explains Demandt. Even if you move, you can take it with you without any problems. In order to keep track, households should also set up some kind of monitoring – either with a simple electricity meter or an inverter with an integrated reading function via an app. “In the best case, the consumer can then adapt his consumption behavior to the production in order to be able to use a particularly large amount of it.”

According to the consumer advice center of North Rhine-Westphalia, a plug-in solar device with an output of 400 watts installed on a south-facing balcony without any shade supplies around 280 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That is roughly equivalent to the annual consumption of a refrigerator and a washing machine in a two-person household. With an electricity price of 35 cents for electricity from the public grid, the savings potential is around 85 euros per year. With the plug-in solar simulator from the Berlin University of Applied Sciences, the individual cost-effectiveness of a system can be estimated.

“Popular figure and vivid advertising for solarisation”

For the individual household, the practical benefit is to be able to cover part of your own electricity needs directly and easily with photovoltaics, says BSW General Manager Körnig. In relation to Germany as a whole, however, the “balcony power plants” do not yet play a major role: “The importance and performance of the small solar power generators in terms of the energy industry is manageable, but they are popular and vivid advertising for solarization in residential buildings.”

In the long term, however, the BSW expects several million such devices. “We expect that in the future such systems will be used wherever there is a sensible installation location for the solar modules of the plug-in solar devices – for example on the balconies of rented and owner-occupied apartments”, says König.

Then the meaning is different: “One million systems with the output of a standard solar module of around 400 watts result in four gigawatts of installed output,” the expert calculates. After all, this corresponds to almost two percent of the German government’s photovoltaic expansion target by 2030.

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