06.04.2022 | Growth strategy for solar and wind until 2030
The expansion of climate-friendly electricity is the key to the energy transition – in Switzerland and in Europe. As the largest producer of renewable energies, Axpo intends to continue making an important contribution here: Axpo wants to develop 10 GW in solar parks and 3 GW in wind energy plants by the year 2030. Christoph Sutter, Head of Renewables at Axpo, explains the figures to us.
Christoph, solar and wind power are currently the most popular technologies. How do you assess the two?
Christoph Sutter: These two technologies are extremely relevant for the energy transition overall. The strongest expansion will take place in the area of solar. These installations will be built on open land, or mounted on buildings or existing infrastructure that is suitable for the construction of solar plants. In addition, the production costs for solar modules have dropped strongly over the last 25 years – so that today, solar energy is the most efficient way to produce power at many locations. I see a similar scenario for wind energy. In order to generate as much electricity as possible, wind plants must be built at locations where there is enough wind. By the way, about two thirds of wind power is produced during the winter half-year. That is the reason why this technology is so important.
Winter power is a good keyword. How can we ensure that we have enough power throughout the year?
That is an important and complex question. We have to use various technologies to ensure this. In Switzerland, we are in the fortunate position that we have a lot of reservoirs. We can use them as crucial energy storage facilities to create a partial transfer from summer to winter. The expansion of alpine solar plants like AlpinSolar will also help because they generate about half of the electricity volume during the winter.
Axpo is the largest producer of renewable energies in Switzerland, and is also active in neighbouring countries. Now you also want to build solar plants in Spain, Italy and Poland. Why in these countries?
We want to make a key contribution to the energy transition. That means that we must continue building new plants. Axpo has been established for years in many European markets and is familiar with the local framework conditions. Production costs for solar energy have dropped so strongly in the past years that today we can build profitable plants in countries like Poland, and not just in the sunny Southern European countries such as Italy and Spain. The fact that we have know-how along the entire solar value chain within the Axpo Group – from project development to electricity trading – puts us in a very good position. We now want to systematically use these synergies in other countries as well. In France, we are already one of the leading companies in the development and construction of solar plants through our subsidiary Urbasolar. Other countries in which Axpo is active will follow.
The plan is to build solar parks with a total capacity of 10 GW. That's enormous. How do you plan to achieve that?
Exactly. We want to develop 10 GW of solar power by the year 2030, which is more than double the installed capacity that we have in the area of hydropower today. In a first phase, we are working together with local co-developers so that we can enter the markets more efficiently. In the future, we will increasingly develop projects independently from the "greenfield" stage. We plan to sell the majority of shares for the solar plants built. Our strategy focuses on "asset light", meaning that we primarily want to concentrate on the development and construction of plants, and will only own a minority share once plants go into the operational phase.
This mainly applies to the expansion of solar energy abroad. What are you doing in Switzerland?
We are also taking on an important role in the energy transition in Switzerland: We are systematically analysing possible follow-up projects for AlpinSolar and are also very interested in building ground-mounted plants. What many people don't know: Axpo is already active in the installation of solar panels on Swiss roof-tops and larger buildings with its subsidiary CKW.
Solar energy for the energy transition. An important contribution. And what about the development of wind power?
By 2030, we want to develop a capacity of 3 GW in the area of onshore wind plants. We will sell 100% of most of the plants after construction, and only keep 100% of a few installations. The reason: In comparison to solar energy, wind power requires many more crucial decisions in the operational phase. It is more efficient and goal-oriented if we can make these decisions for our plants on our own. We will keep selected farms located in the regions where we want to develop additional projects and where clusters for operation make sense. Aside from this, we are concentrating on our core competence, which is the development and construction of larger wind plants.
In which countries will you become active here?
Axpo is already strongly active in Germany and France through our subsidiary Volkswind and continues to see great potential in these two countries.
In addition, preparations for market entry in other countries are underway, and will be communicated accordingly as soon as the decisions have been.
We would also like to continue developing in Switzerland. In general the reason for the slow expansion here is that there is less accessible wind potential available in comparison to other countries. Unfortunately, with few potential locations, which would be important for the energy transition and the urgently needed winter power, the permit processes are incredibly slow and arduous.