Solar balconies are on the rise in Germany. Here’s what you need to know about the popular home technology

This new wave of solar energy producers not only gets cheap electricity, they also participate in the energy transition.

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More than 400,000 plug-in solar systems have been installed in Germany, most of which sit seamlessly on people’s balconies.

New data shows that at least 50,000 of the PV devices were added in the first quarter of 2024 alone. A boom that stems from Germany’s “very strong solar culture”, in the words of one expert.

Sun balconies are a bit wider energy transition throughout Europe, explains Jan Osenberg, policy advisor at the SolarPower Europe association.

“We see them as a subset of rooftop solar, but also as something else,” he tells Euronews Green. “We actually see it as a trend to use all possible artificial infrastructure for solar energy generation.”

Train trackshighways, parking lots, car roofs, cemeteries and building facades… the list of structures getting a solar makeover goes on.

So why are other European countries slow to introduce balustrades? And what do you need to know if you are looking for one or two panels for your balcony?

Solar balconies in brief: how they work

The main thing that sets sun balconies apart from solar energy on the roof is that it is a much smaller system. Essentially, the technology consists of one or two panels plugged into an electrical outlet.

They produce only about 10 percent of the energy of residential roof systems, Osenberg says.

As a rough calculation, he estimates Germany has approximately 200 MW of installed solar energy on balconies; compared to 16 GW capacity from the residential rooftop sector.

From the customer’s point of view, the main difference is that balcony PV is much easier to install. You can buy the kit online and you don’t need an electrician to set it up. Unlike before installations on roofswhere certified installers are recommended to avoid fire risks and damage to the structure.

In short: the panels are placed on a suspension structure and attached via cables to an inverter that converts the electricity from DC to AC, which goes into your socket via a regular plug.

Who are sun balconies intended for?

“The main reason for the success of solar systems on balconies is that it gives people the opportunity to use solar energy who could not use it before,” says a spokesperson for German manufacturer Meyer Burger.

“Most people do not have a house, or they cannot install solar energy on the roof due to heritage protection, shading or other structural conditions of the roof. For them, solar energy on the balcony is attractive because they can use solar energy to generate their own energy electricity and reduce their electricity bills.”

Germany was one of the first countries to invest in solar technology and now produces the most electricity from it solar energy in Europe. But like elsewhere, the apartment complexes have been late to the party.

“The multi-home rooftop solar industry has really been left out of the solar boom, has really been neglected,” Osenberg says.

He attributes this to the challenges of getting all building owners to agree to rooftop solar, for example, and the difficulties of sharing electricity between different apartments.

However, “with balcony solar panels” it suddenly becomes very, very simple. All these people who couldn’t get solar power for the last 10 years now have a way to access it.”

This “wave” of new solar owners isn’t just benefiting from cheap electricity, Osenberg says; they also have the opportunity to take their place in the energy transition.

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“Rooftop solar really has the driving momentum that people who start having a solar system, start tracking their electricity use, start feeling themselves as someone at the forefront of the energy transition, someone who supports the energy transition and is already part of it “, he says.

How has Germany helped people get solar energy on their balconies?

Germany was at the forefront of rooftop solar energy in the 2000s. The government encouraged people to participate by rewarding them with feed-in tariffs, for example by giving a fixed price for each unit of electricity sent into the country. the grid.

“Customers had already started this boom and successfully demanded simplified bureaucracy from politicians,” said the Meyer Burger spokesperson. “Measures such as the abolition of VAT have contributed to the popularity of balcony solar panels.”

Grants are also available at regional level, with an offer of up to €500 Berlin (potentially half the cost of a kit). The technology pays for itself after about three years, Osenberg says. With a lifespan of approximately twenty years, it is therefore “a very simple investment for citizens.”

According to the market master data register, North Rhine-Westphalia currently has the most plug-in solar energy systems with more than 80,000, followed by Bavaria with more than 60,000 and Lower Saxony with more than 50,000.

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The size of balcony solar systems is also gradually increasing, Osenberg adds. The German government now wants to make a maximum of four panels possible.

Why do other countries lack solar energy on balconies?

The EU has said that member states can support the adoption of solar energy on balconies. But it is not mandatory and it is not embraced by all countries.

Belgiumhas specifically banned plug-in solar energy systems due to fears of the impact of unregistered systems connecting to the grid.

Grid operators want to monitor the electricity supply, because sudden changes can lead to power outages. “But in our opinion that is not really a problem,” Osenberg explains, “because the injection from the balcony system is so small that the impact would also be quite negligible.”

AustriaFrance, Italy, Poland and Luxembourg have all taken an encouraging stance on solar energy on balconies. As renewable energy campaigners in Spain try to get their government to quickly relax rules.

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Things to consider before purchasing solar power for balconies

There is of course constant innovation in the field of solar energy, and balconies are no different. If you’re tempted to join in, here are some things to keep in mind.

Small-scale storage is an option. While these systems don’t produce much excess electricity, more makers are offering them storage systems for balcony-specific solar energy. The batteries – which fit between the panels and the inverter – are smaller than on roofs, but still useful for people who work during the day and can use the stored energy in the evening.

Apps can help you track your electricity usage. Some kits come with apps that allow you to see how much electricity your PV system produces and how much of your energy demand it meets. These are hosted on secure servers, so your digital protection is not compromised.

Make sure your kit is sustainably manufactured. For Meyer Burger this means the panels “do not contain lead or other toxic substances (such as PFAS) and are produced without forced labor under decent social and ethical standards.”

There are options to rent a balcony solar system. And the great thing about this plug-in system is of course that if you rent an apartment, you can take it with you when you move.

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Balcony systems still have to be that way securely mounted. Although they encourage a do-it-yourself approach, take installation seriously, says Osenberg. The hook design makes it easy, but because the modules weigh up to 24 kg, they can cause serious damage if they fall from the 10th floor.