The proportion of energy generated by solar power in Germany rose by more than 2 percent to 10.9 percent last year compared to 20211. There are many reasons for relying on the sun as a source of energy: greater autonomy from regional electricity suppliers, an improved climate footprint and even a lower electricity bill. Solar power technology has also continued to develop and is now available for use by a large number of people – and a balcony, a patio or a garden is now all that is required to benefit from it. About 60 million people in Germany alone have access to a balcony or a veranda.
Plug-in solar power units now automatically form part of the range of units available at online shops operated by discount stores and DIY markets. According to a market study performed by the HTW Berlin (University of Applied Sciences) and the North Rhine-Westphalian consumer advice centre, as many as 128,000 plug-in solar power units were installed in Germany in 2020 and 2021 – and those commissioning the study therefore concluded that the market for these devices is larger than was originally thought2.
At the same time, the potential offered by solar power has been well-known for a long time. When the prices for solar power units fell during the 1980s, solar energy experienced an initial boom in Germany. Private solar power units were linked to the national grid in the 1990s and the so-called ‘roof subsidy programme’ launched by the German government at that time triggered additional demand. The ‘100,000 roof programme’ followed as part of the Renewable Energy Act in 1999.
Solar power involves directly converting light energy into electrical energy by means of solar cells. The sun was used as a source of heat, even in the ancient world. However, the basis for developing solar power only started through the French physicist, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, who discovered the photoelectric effect more by accident than intention in 1839. He learnt that electricity flows more powerfully when exposed to light3.
While solar power in the early stages was primarily associated with solar roofs, the first balcony power stations arrived on the market in 2001. This marked a milestone for residents, who rent their accommodation and do not own any property where they can install solar modules. Alongside solar power modules for roofs and mini-solar power stations for balconies, solar energy units for patios and gardens are now available too. The latter are often isolated solar panel units and therefore work completely autonomously without any connection to the electricity grid.
The permissible output from plug-in solar panels is not sufficient to supply all the electricity required for a complete household. Products consuming a large number of watts, such as coffee machines, toasters or hair dryers, cannot be operated from them, but the panels can cope with the basic needs required for phones, routers or standby devices, for example. A plug-in balcony power station, which costs less than EUR 1,000, can easily pay for itself after just a few years if it is placed in the right position and direction, even if its power output is restricted to 600 watts.
Balcony power stations can be attached to almost any balcony – whether it is made of concrete, plastic, metal or wood. However, it is best to clarify various requirements before purchasing a system:
What is allowed in some European countries, such as the Netherlands, does not apply in Germany: the electricity meter may not run backwards when your own electricity is fed into the grid. The network operator will install a meter with a ‘backstop’ at your home once an order is placed for this.
The balcony must be equipped with a power socket so that the electricity from the solar power unit can be fed into the property’s network. Each solar device must be connected to a separate power socket. Experts say that a normal earthed socket is adequate for this – but a so-called Wieland power socket is mentioned as necessary in standards at this time. If the balcony does not yet have a power socket, it is often easy to have one installed.
Even if it is not in principle possible to forbid the installation of any solar panels on a balcony according to current German case law, it is best to obtain the consent of the landlord or owner company before installing a unit.
The output of plug-in solar power plants on balconies may not exceed 600 watts. Structurally identical power inverters can be connected to each other provided that they do not exceed the maximum output limit together.
Balcony power stations must be registered with the responsible network operator in Germany. It will need the contact data and location as well as the meter number and power output of the modules. The balcony unit must also be entered in the register for the German electricity and gas market, the so-called market master data register at the German Federal Network Agency, within one month of having been commissioned – otherwise consumers may have to pay a fine and lose any compensation under the German Renewable Energy Act.
Value-added tax has no longer been charged for delivering balcony power stations, which are installed near a residential building, since 1 January 2023. The 19 percent value-added tax charged in the past has been reduced to zero percent. Value-added tax is no longer normally charged for operating the unit, i.e. feeding in electricity, either5. It is true that dealers and trades companies are not obliged to pass on the lower rate of value-added tax to their customers. However, the aim of this measure is to make these mini-solar power units cheaper and attractive to a wider group of people. It is already possible to purchase low-cost balcony power stations for approx. EUR 600 (correct figure in March 2023).
However, that is not the end of the story: in addition to subsidies from the federal government in the form of exemption from tax, there are both numerous local authority subsidy programmes and some provided by the federal states. The latter are currently available in Berlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein. While buyers in Schleswig-Holstein benefit from a maximum grant of EUR 200, the amount in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern may be as high as EUR 500. However, the individual subsidy conditions are different (cf. the information box). Customers should note the condition placed on some subsidies that the application for the grant must be made before purchasing the unit.
The SolarPLUS subsidy programme was expanded to include electric plug-in solar devices on 10 February 2023. Tenants, who have their primary place of residence in the city state, can receive a grant of up to EUR 500 for a plug-in solar device. Residents must apply for this electronically via a portal. It is important to note that the application for the grant must be made and confirmed before purchasing the unit. Evidence that the device is in use must be submitted at the latest three months after the conclusion of the project6.
The Ministry of Climate Protection, Agriculture, Rural Areas and the Environment in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern grants support for purchasing and installing balcony solar panels. This applies to both tenants and owners. The amount of subsidy is restricted to a maximum figure of EUR 500 per plug-in device and place of residence7.
Although subsidies only applied to battery storage devices and not energy generation units in the past, the new version of the Climate Protection Subsidy Programme, which came into effect on 16 January 2023, now includes balcony power stations too. The support amounts to as much as EUR 200. The application may only be made in digital form via the website entitled “Climate Protection for Citizens” at the service portal of the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein8.
If somebody has decided to purchase a balcony power station, they then face the issue of who is going to deliver and assemble it. People often do not have much time available for this with all their commitments to work and family. Many people who buy solar power panels therefore want things to be as convenient as possible.
This includes ensuring that all the parts of the solar panel module and the accessories arrive packaged and undamaged at the installation place on the preferred date. Customers should therefore take a look at the delivery information at their online shop – because the services available differ markedly.
The components are often sent in different packages. The power inverters are usually shipped using a courier/express parcels company and the recipient often has no influence on when the package will arrive or where it might be left – for example, at a parcel shop some distance away. As the solar panel modules are too large for the normal postal services, they must be delivered by a freight forwarder. Many such companies only supply the items to the kerbside outside the building.
Online dealers, which want to offer their customers more services, sign partnership agreements with special logistics companies. There are clear benefits here: the balcony power stations are supplied as one complete unit at the same time and the customer can independently and easily book the specific date for the delivery at an online customer portal. “This is very convenient for those on the receiving end. The feedback from customers suggests that consumers want time frames that are as short as possible so that they don’t have to hang around at home all that long. Customers can therefore already see their probable two-hour delivery time frame on the day before the delivery at Rhenus Home Delivery and track the vehicle online using GPS on the delivery date. The recipient also receives a phone call from our team in good time before the goods arrive,” says Markus Reese.
In principle, plug-in solar panels are designed in such a way that it is possible to assemble and install them yourself. There are plenty of instructions for the DIY assembly of solar modules and balcony power stations on the Internet. However, not every user is a natural handyman. Things become a special challenge if the balcony is located on a fairly high floor. If something goes wrong, the damage may be considerable – in the worst possible scenario, not only the module is damaged, but the DIY enthusiast suffers injuries too.
“We recommend that online traders and manufacturers give their customers the choice between a less expensive 1-man delivery to their home or the all-round service with 2-man handling to the point of use; this also covers the assembly work for a balcony power station. As far as the latter is concerned, the customer only needs to be at home, but not worry about anything else,” says Markus Reese, offering his advice. In order to measure customer satisfaction, Rhenus Home Delivery, the specialist for 1- and 2-man handling, also collects the Net Promoter Score (NPS). This enables the company to continually improve processes. “Our efforts to increase the quality of our services have already paid off. Our NPS is currently about 60. That’s very high in comparison with many other logistics specialists,” says Reese.
If customers wish to return a balcony power plant that they have ordered, many of them face the problem of finding the packaging, which is usually no longer available. Professional freight forwarders provide assistance here, offer a returns services and bring the packaging materials with them. This saves the consumer time and also reduces the damage rate.
1 | Cf. Statista: “Anteil der Photovoltaik an der Bruttostromerzeugung in Deutschland in den Jahren 2002 bis 2022”, at: https://rhen.us/TOhgCrzINOnX (accessed on 21 March 2023)
2 | Cf. Verbraucherzentrale Nordrhein-Westfalen: “Bis zu 190.000 Steckersolargeräte in Deutschland im Einsatz”, at: https://rhen.us/xkXkKmApPm7N (accessed on 21 March 2023)
3 | Cf. Senec: “Entwicklung der Photovoltaik: Die Geschichte der Solarenergie”, at: https://rhen.us/OQc4IPLVMMdp (accessed on 21 March 2023
4 | Cf. DKE: “Mini-PV-Anlage: Strom auf dem eigenen Balkon erzeugen – nachhaltig und für jeden möglich”, at: https://rhen.us/WGtlzQGA0y6M (accessed on 21 March 2023)
5 | Cf. German Ministry of Finances: “FAQ ‚Umsatzsteuerliche Maßnahmen zur Förderung des Ausbaus von Photovoltaikanlagen’”, at: https://rhen.us/wGAdzuNNj33r (accessed on 21 March 2023)
6 | Cf. “Senatsverwaltung für Wirtschaft, Energie, Betriebe: „Förderprogramm SolarPLUS”, at: https://rhen.us/Vr1PJg6x5qbF (accessed on 21 March 2023)
7 | Cf. Landesförderinstitut Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: “Mini-Solaranlagen”, at: https://rhen.us/KkGL9B58qqNP (accessed on 21 March 2023)
8 | Cf. Schleswig-Holstein Presse: “Hohe Nachfrage beim Förderprogramm „Klimaschutz für Bürgerinnen und Bürger”, at: https://rhen.us/llNVdfJMkr85 (accessed on 21 March 2023)
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