With the expansion to the United Kingdom and Switzerland, Sonnenkraft’s network of sales offices now spans across nine countries. When adding the company’s partnerships in other markets, the manufacturer is among the solar thermal businesses with the most extensive market coverage across Europe. Solarthermalworld.org spoke to Magnus Wallin (left), who has been Director of new and emerging markets in Sonnenkraft since 2008, and Torben Sørensen (right), CEO of SolarCAP since 2010 (the Danish holding company of Sonnenkraft – among other companies) who came from a position as CEO of Faber and Benthin Group (subsidiaries of VKR Holding), about the market potential in different European countries and the company’s future growth strategy.
Solarthermalworld.org: Sonnenkraft has opened its latest sales offices in Switzerland and Great Britain. Why did you choose these two countries?
Magnus Wallin: Sonnenkraft has established sales offices in Switzerland and Great Britain, because there is a vast market potential in both countries. The decision to abandon nuclear power in Switzerland has created a unique opportunity for renewable energies and we are trying to take advantage of the situation.
In Great Britain, extensive subsidy programmes have driven the enormous success of photovoltaic energy. This is a historic moment: The government’s decision to reduce the feed-in tariff rate from 0.433 to 0.21 Pound Sterling (GBP)/kWh will change the way people invest in PV solutions. Now, there is an opportunity to reignite solar thermal and let the market flourish with the Renewable Heat Incentive in place.
Solarthermalworld.org: What would you say is special about the British and the Swiss solar thermal market?
Magnus Wallin: In Great Britain, the huge challenge is to meet the aim of reduced emissions by 2020. In order to succeed, solar energy must become a major contributor to energy generation in private households and the industry, as well as public buildings. Switzerland is a more mature solar market than the British one. However, the market still has a vast unrealised potential. We believe that during the next decade, Switzerland can reach the same level as Europe’s leader Austria. We also want to play a major part in making this happen by promoting solar energy to the general public.
Solarthermalworld.org: With regard to Switzerland, you speak of a complex market on which much effort is needed to obtain the results you want. Which measures have been taken here?
Magnus Wallin: Switzerland is a multicultural country with a unique political system that consists of so-called ‘cantons’. Hence, the Swiss market shows several submarkets with different subsidy policies and different legislation, which also means different consumer preferences and needs. Any solar company that wants to be successful in Switzerland has to be very flexible and we see it as our advantage that we have the broadest portfolio across all of Europe. So, we can provide complete solutions for any need an end-user may have.
Solarthermalworld.org: Sonnenkraft has subsidiaries in 9 European countries and is among the market leaders in several of them. What are the success factors driving your expansion?
Torben Sørensen: As the European solar specialist, we have a responsibility to innovate and develop solar energy in general – it does not matter what market we are talking about. If we succeed, we also have the expertise and products that will enable us to gain a fair share of the market. In some markets, the business model is to have strong relations with local partners (importers). Other markets require direct involvement. We have subsidies in nine countries and are present in Belgium through our French subsidiary and sell our products on the Slovenian market via our Austrian company. Sonnenkraft is the only truly European solar specialist.
Solarthermalworld.org: And what is the marketing strategy with which you want to reach these aims?
Torben Sørensen: ‘Market Excellence Programme’ or MEP is the title under which all the new Sonnenkraft campaigns have been initiated and developed. The aim of MEP is to allow the company and its partners to translate the huge market potential for solar energy solutions into real business. The solar industry has more or less kept to itself. In order to be successful, you need to communicate the many benefits of solar energy directly to the end-users. Completing the business platform now allows us to do exactly that, which gives our partners a competitive edge on the market.
Key facts of Sonnenkraft:
Sonnenkraft supplies solutions for both single-family houses and industry buildings. The photo shows a 400 m² installation on a hotel in Algarve, Portugal.
European solar energy specialist Sonnenkraft was founded in Austria in 1993. Just one year later, the company opened its German sales office. In 2005, Danish holding company SolarCAP (which belongs to VKR Holding) acquired a majority of Sonnenkraft. Today, Sonnenkraft has a sales office in 9 European countries and entered into partner agreements in another 15 European countries. SolarCAP including Sonnenkraft, Arcon (Denmark) and Heliodyne (USA) employ 254 people, 714 including Greenonetec (Austria) and Emmvee Solar Systems (India).
This interview was conducted by Stephanie Banse, a German journalist specialised on solar thermal technology. (firstname.lastname@example.org)