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Dr. Andreas Bett, Hansjörg Lerchenmüller and Günther Cramer (from the left) received this year’s environment prize from the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU).
© Peter Himsel/DBU
German Environmental Award for photovoltaic pioneers

Award for photovoltaic forerunners

Yesterday, the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU) awarded the environment prize for the 20th time. German President Joachim Gauck presented the prize in the Gewandhaus hall in Leipzig to co-founder of SMA Solar Technology AG, Günther Cramer, and to the Freiburg researchers Dr. Andreas Bett from the Fraunhofer ISE and Hansjörg Lerchenmüller from Soitec Solar GmbH. In these times of crisis, the foundation aims to send a message through the award winners from the photovoltaic sector.

Joachim Gauck praised them for exemplifying something that made him proud of Germany: inventiveness and a spirit of entrepreneurship in people who strive to make what is wanted and needed a reality. “It isn’t enough to talk importantly and in a politically correct way about greater sustainability. While it is important that politicians support it, there must also be companies which make it a reality, and for it to be accepted in society.”

The Freiburg researchers Dr. Andreas Bett and Hansjörg Lerchenmüller received the prize for the successful market launch of concentrated photovoltaics. Dr. Andreas Bett is acting head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, and Hansjörg Lerchenmüller is managing director of Soitec Solar GmbH. Explaining the reason for the award, the DBU said that with their pioneering technical development and their personal efforts to develop photovoltaics, the award winners set new standards worldwide and in so doing, improved them significantly on a global scale.
Günther Cramer won the award for his pioneering work in developing inverters. The co-founder and chairman of the board at SMA Solar Technology AG succeeded in building up SMA from a small engineering firm to a global technology and market leader, by focussing consistently on research and development. According to the DBU, his company stands out for its highly innovative solar inverters. In photovoltaic systems, they help create alternating current which can be fed into the grid.

A rocky road to success

The two researchers Bett and Lerchenmüller jointly completed the long process from vision to industrial product. With their concentrator technology, which is able to use sunlight far more efficiently than standard silicon modules, with highly efficient multiple solar cells and special collector lenses, they are setting new standards in photovoltaics. As a result, according to the DBU, this technology achieves levels of module efficiency of around 30 percent, enabling an energy yield which is around double the size of that gained through standard technology. In their film contribution, the two researchers reminded the audience of the scepticism with which their technical development was initially met: flat-plate modules for on-roof mounting were already available. It was not until they were able to put their technology into practice that they were able to show that they had the functioning “completely under control”. From then on, the scepticism abated. Ultimately, it paid off that they remained true to their vision of also contributing to environmentally sustainable energy provision through solar power stations. They also generated cheaper energy through their technology than had been possible through the photovoltaic technology available to date. According to Lerchenmüller: “We need a global energy revolution. And we are directly contributing to this revolution by installing power stations equipped with our technology in North Africa, and transporting this power to Europe. In 20 years’ time, we are certain that with module efficiencies of over 40 per cent, we can produce power which is cheaper than conventional power generators.” 

Risk-free energy provision and energy stand-alone solutions

Cramer also discussed his pioneering work in his film, “the most wonderful thing you can possibly do”. Influenced by the debates around nuclear energy, he developed the clear position that risk-free energy provision is necessary for people and for the environment. Driven by the motto “Let’s be realistic and attempt the impossible”, he devoted his efforts as an enthusiastic engineer to developing new energy supply systems. “At that time, nobody really dared to make the conversion from conventional to renewable. We wanted to demonstrate that it is possible, and hoped that colleagues from the industry would imitate us.” Despite all the setbacks, he succeeded in significantly increasing the degree of efficiency of inverters.
For the future, said Cramer, it is now important that energy stand-alone solutions are created, through which 1.3 billion people who today have no access to power and water can be provided with electricity. The technology which he uses in his own SMA buildings acts as a model for this purpose. It can also be used in remote areas. Cramer explains: “In the future, I would like to focus on introducing these systems for use in poorer regions. This is much more difficult than everything that we have achieved with the technology to date. However, I am confident that we will succeed. This is necessary in order to enable these people to find a way out of their poverty spiral.”

The German Environmental Award

At 500,000 euros, the DBU German Environmental Award is the most highly endowed environment prize in Europe. By awarding the prize to the three photovoltaic pioneers, the DBU aims to send a message in the light of the crisis in the sector, which is now also affecting SMA.



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Award winners of the environment prize 2012
Fraunhofer ISE