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Czech solar innovations make headway abroad

Translated by Milo Dvorak

9. 5. 2024

Business Newsletter #31

You may have noticed the boom in solar energy we have been experiencing over the past few years yourselves, as solar panels are now popping up on the roofs of almost every structure we can possibly fathom, ranging from houses to barns, sheds and even parking machines. There is more than meets the eye, however, as more and more Czechs not only have them installed but are also inventing a myriad of new solutions.

Published by on 7 May 2024.

newsletter 32
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The solar boom in the Czech Republic continues, as the market is seeing an increase in companies interested in solar energy and is investing ever larger sums in the development and production of photovoltaic power plants. Purely Czech innovations include, to name a few, titanium batteries with an extremely long lifespan, special constructions for ground-based power plants, or a completely new type of solar panels.

Czechs apply for subsidies more than ever before

More and more people in the Czech Republic are having residential photovoltaics installed. This year, the State Environmental Fund has received the highest number of applications for solar power plant grants ever since the start of the new phase of the New Green Light To Savings programme. In the first three months of this year alone, nearly 28,000 grant applications were submitted, making it almost 7,000 more than last year, and four times more than in 2022.

Record year for solar power plants

Last year was record-breaking in terms of solar energy. The indisputably largest number of Czech households installed their own photovoltaics on their roofs. The State Environmental Fund approved about 70,000 projects, roughly the same number as in the previous two years combined.

According to the EU 2023 – 2027 Market Outlook for Solar Power study, the Czech Republic, after 13 years of stagnation, has returned to the growing photovoltaic markets, increasing solar-power production by approximately 1,000 MW over the year. Thanks to the Czech contribution, Europe is seeing a record growth in photovoltaics. “The Czech Republic has been literally experiencing a renaissance of solar energy in the last two years. Photovoltaic panels have become a popular solution that protects households from rising energy prices in the market. For example, households with average consumption effectively save the equivalent of a thirteenth average salary,” evaluates last year Martin Sedlák from the Modern Energy Union, adding that for the Czech Republic to fully utilise the potential of photovoltaics, it needs to streamline permitting processes and ensure the necessary capacity in the networks. Market growth naturally also brings an evolution in terms of technologies.

Scientists from the Czech Academy of Sciences are also involved in the development as part of a European project. “For example, it involves double-layer solar cells with contacts placed on the back,” says Martin Sedlák from the Modern Energy Union.

Solar power plants have long not been just the domain of roofs. They also generate electricity on water, in landfills, mountains, on railways, or monuments. For several years, for instance, the New Stage of the National Theatre has had its own photovoltaics on the roof. Photovoltaics are also installed, for example, in Jablonec nad Nisou on the neoclassical Aramis Werke villa or on the roof of a century-old technical monument – a small hydroelectric power plant in Přelouč.

Czech traces are also present in the photovoltaics in the French Alps, where they were installed at 1,700 meters above sea level by the domestic company Greenbuddies.

As panels proliferate and increase, inventors must be creative and look for places to place them. Even world-famous monuments make no exception, where photovoltaics have been for many years – for example – the Eiffel Tower. Over 2,000 solar panels have also found a place in the Pope's audience hall in the Vatican.

Dual use – land and energy

According to Martin Sedlák, innovations in the use of solar energy are currently also associated with agrivoltaics – i.e., installations of solar panels over agricultural land.

From one green space, farmers can harvest not only crops but also solar electricity, thanks to so-called agrivoltaics. Photovoltaics can be installed, for example, on vineyards, vegetable beds, among fruit trees, or in fields. Farmers can thus combine crop cultivation and solar energy production at the same time. Incidentally, the panels also serve as protection against adverse weather, such as the recent frosts.

The structures can also serve as a fence or enclosure for the farming of agricultural animals. Several pilot projects are currently operational in the Czech Republic, pending legislation. The possibility of incorporating solar energy into farming is now undergoing the legislative process.

One of the pioneers of agrivoltaics in the Czech Republic is the Litomyšl-based company Bragen. The owners are seeking ways to save, for instance, on steel consumption or implementation in robotics. The company was one of the first to come up with proposals for solar structures for agricultural areas. Today, it is working on, among other things, structures for apple trees, decorative trees, raspberry bushes and more.

Batteries take centre stage

In addition to panels and structures, businesses are also coming up with other solar aids. Specifically, batteries that store solar-panel-generated surplus energy more efficiently. The purely Czech startup company TiTRON Storage has been developing a durable battery for solar power plants with an extremely long lifespan for several years.

Commonly used batteries currently last a maximum of 10 years. The novelty design is made of titanium and can function for decades in practice. “The battery consists of titanium oxide cells and thus achieves a lifespan of at least 25,000 full charge and discharge cycles. It is also significantly more resistant to temperatures and operates from -40 degrees to +60 degrees. Nothing like this is yet available in the market,” the TiTRON Storage company owner Jakub Průcha describes.

It is the battery that determines the usability of electricity when the family needs it and when the sun isn't shining. It also provides a backup for the home in case of a power outage.

The titanium battery made in the Czech Republic is also one of the safest technologies currently available in the market. “The titanium battery can be extremely stressed – up to twenty times – compared to readily available batteries, meaning it can be charged and discharged very quickly. The technology itself is safer,” says energy consultant Robert Vinický.

Solar panels like sunflowers

Solar applications are also making headway in the market where panels are equipped with so-called trackers, effectively making the entire power plant rotate from the east to the west throughout the day. “This power plant is special in the sense that the panels are equipped with trackers, so they – similarly to sunflowers – rotate to follow the sun, increasing the overall efficiency of the power plant by up to thirty per cent as a result,” Aleš Spáčil a co-owner of Greenbuddies adds. The company also supplied and managed the construction of a floating power plant in a flooded mining pit in Germany.

Floating panels

The very first floating solar power plant was created in Japan in 2007. Just two years ago, the “novelty” also reached the Czech Republic. In the upper reservoir of the pumped-storage hydroelectric power station in Central Bohemia's Štěchovice, one is being tested by ČEZ. “In total, 192 photovoltaic panels are kept above the water by 144 air-filled floats. The entire structure faces fluctuations due to weather, and constant changes in water level during pumping cycles thanks to roller tracks with rail mountings on the reservoir walls. We are considering expanding this installation in the future,” Martin Schreier, spokesman for the ČEZ Group, reveals.

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