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One megawatt per minute: the PHOTON philosophy

At the beginning of the 1990s, the idea of using solar power not only to operate satellites or pocket calculators, but also to harness the power of the sun on a large scale for energy supply, gained more and more supporters. The concept of cost-covering remuneration was developed for this purpose: Operators of photovoltaic systems should receive enough money for the solar power they generate to make a profit in addition to the pure investment – just like all other power plant operators. Germany was a pioneer here, alongside Switzerland.
This idea was initially ridiculed by the electricity industry. Politicians considered it unaffordable. But slowly but inexorably, she made progress. Municipality after municipality was convinced that the economic reward for environmentally friendly action can significantly promote solar power generation. After all, as other technologies had demonstrated hundreds of times before, the technology for photovoltaic systems would become cheaper and cheaper the more of it was produced. On the “learning curve”, new knowledge is gained with every solar module and inverter produced, which can then be used to reduce costs.
However, if the systems for generating solar power can be produced more and more cheaply and the “fuel” sun is free, then the ever-increasing use of this form of energy must ultimately also make solar power cheaper – cheaper even than coal and nuclear power, which are becoming more and more expensive. This would eliminate the central argument of solar energy opponents that solar power is too expensive.
Once a number of local authorities with their own municipal utilities were convinced to grant private solar power system operators cost-covering remuneration, the potential of this funding method quickly became apparent. The additional costs were passed on to all electricity customers. This meant that the impact on each individual consumer’s bill was initially almost zero, but many new systems were nevertheless promoted.

New momentum: A magazine for solar power is being created

Finally, in the mid-1990s, more and more cities and municipalities joined in. At this time, a group was formed with the aim of giving the movement even more momentum. A magazine should explain to all interested parties what photovoltaics is and how it can be promoted through cost-covering remuneration. Twenty-one private individuals contributed their savings to the founding of the publishing house.
The first issue of PHOTON appeared in 1996 after only a few months of preparation: 52 pages in four-color printing with a print run of 10,000 copies. 600 advance subscribers and a few advertising customers contributed to the fact that the first issue was already in the black and the failure of “Project PHOTON” predicted by pessimists did not materialize. This was followed in 1998 by the English-language PHOTON International.
From these beginnings, “Solar Verlag” and later PHOTON Holding developed within a decade into the world’s largest publishing house in the field of solar power generation. In 2012, more than 180 employees worked in eleven offices and branches on three continents. They produced eight monthly magazines and daily e-mail newsletters in German, English, Spanish, Italian, French and Chinese. PHOTON organized conferences and trade fairs worldwide and maintained its own test laboratory for photovoltaic products. A consulting company belonging to the PHOTON Group advised companies and investors worldwide.

The crisis year 2012

However, 2012 was also the year in which a global crisis in the solar industry reached its peak. PHOTON felt the full force of this: the company, which had been geared towards continuous and very rapid expansion for many years, was unable to take timely countermeasures when revenue – advertising sales, orders from the PHOTON laboratory, income from trade fairs and conferences – collapsed across the board. In December 2012, PHOTON Europe GmbH, the publisher of PHOTON’s print media and the largest single company in the group, had to file for insolvency. Around half of the employees lost their jobs and the remaining ones tried to continue the “PHOTON project” under extremely difficult conditions. In January 2013, the newly founded PHOTON Publishing GmbH took over as publisher of the various print and online media. However, this was by no means the end of the consolidation process: Several of the publisher’s titles had to cease publication and many more jobs were cut.
Today, PHOTON still publishes two print titles (PHOTON International and the German-language PHOTON) as well as newsletters in English, German and Italian. PHOTON Italia is published exclusively as an online edition. The PHOTON laboratory continues (no longer as an independent PHOTON Laboratory GmbH, but as part of PHOTON Publishing GmbH) the internationally recognized inverter tests and module yield measurements. PHOTON currently (January 2015) has around 25 employees.
The two-year battle to preserve the project has not yet been resolved and there are still major difficulties: The insolvency of PHOTON Europe was followed by further proceedings at other companies in the Group. At times, the increasingly scarce human resources were needed almost entirely for what should really only be a minor matter for a publishing house, namely organization and administration.

The project continues

The actual core task has suffered badly as a result. Even with a great deal of hard work, it has still not been possible to ensure the scheduled and punctual publication of the magazines. Conditions are also extremely difficult, especially in the German market, which has shrunk by 75 percent since 2012. But just as the international solar industry has emerged from its crisis, PHOTON also wants to stick to its idea and make as much information about photovoltaics available to as many people as possible.
But we are not a lobby newspaper for the solar industry. We want to be an independent and reliable source of information for manufacturers, installers and system operators, but also for electricity customers and politicians, always working according to journalistic principles. This also means that we not only name and analyze progress, but also undesirable developments in photovoltaics. PHOTON has often been referred to as a “nest polluter”. We take such criticism very seriously, but at the same time it would give us pause for thought if it did not exist.
When PHOTON started work in 1996, the world’s annual production of solar modules was around 30 megawatts. This means that approximately one megawatt of photovoltaic capacity was added every two weeks. Today, this quantity is produced in just under a quarter of an hour. If humanity wants to prevent a climate catastrophe, we need to stop burning coal and oil in the short term. Solar module production must therefore be expanded to one megawatt per minute in the coming years. We are working towards this goal.


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