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Press Release

Fraunhofer Institute for
Systems and Innovation Research ISI

In Germany photovoltaic installations generate higher profits than onshore installations – although they produce less electricity

Press Release 28.07.2014

A current study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI deals with the revenues and profits that can be made by photovoltaic and onshore installations in Germany. The study illustrates that there are huge differences between the two regenerative energy sources and shows that photovoltaic installations generated significantly higher profits than onshore installations until 2012 although they produced less electricity overall. The study also points out striking differences between individual federal states.

Within the context of the energy transition a major aim is to expand the capacities of renewable energy sources and to increase their contribution to the generation of electricity. However, the transition is very expensive and is financed primarily by the non-privileged final customers who pay the RE surcharge. This means they bear the brunt of the total costs which have increased substantially in recent years. The question whether certain regions or actors profit more from the expansion of renewable energies than others is often asked.

As part of the project "Impact of renewable energy sources" (ImpRES) the Fraunhofer ISI together with the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the Institute of Economic Structures Research (GWS) and the "Institut für ZukunftsEnergieSysteme" (IZES) is investigating this question and has conducted the study “Distributional effects of the promotion of photovoltaic expansion and wind onshore“. The aim was to investigate the amount of electricity generated depending on the federal state, size of installation and annual amount for photovoltaic and onshore installations and to calculate the annual profits. In view of the results Dr. Barbara Breitschopf, project manager of the study at the Fraunhofer ISI, points to the considerable differences in profits made by the analyzed renewable energy sources, “in 2012 the realized profits of 750 million euros made by onshore installations were significantly lower than for photovoltaic installations, which at around 2.7 billion euros, generated profits which were almost three times higher despite the fact that far less solar electricity than wind power is produced.”

The investigation also found patterns for electricity capacities, electricity generation and profits which depend on the location of the installation. For example, Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg alone cover around 40 per cent of the installed solar electricity capacities in Germany and make the highest profits. These are primarily generated by smaller, often private installations which at the same time bring in the lowest profit margin for the generated amount of electricity per kilo watt hour. The natural conditions, the high number of farms and roof surfaces available for solar panels all have an effect on the installed capacities.

In contrast, the northern German states such as Lower Saxony, Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saxony-Anhalt generate approximately 19 giga watt more wind power than the remaining twelve federal states produce together. However, the profit margins differ substantially as the example of Schleswig-Holstein highlights: Compared with Lower Saxony the most Northern state has only half of the total electricity capacity the profits for 2012 were just nine per cent less. The reverse is true for Brandenburg. Since 2000 it has had the second largest total electricity capacity but according to a model estimate it makes only a fraction of the profits which Lower Saxony or Schleswig-Holstein make.

According to Dr. Breitschopf the huge differences can be partially explained by the natural weather conditions which are more favorable for onshore installations in Schleswig-Holstein than in more southerly regions in Germany. In addition, regional spatial planning has a great impact on the location for onshore installations. 

The study "Distributional effects of the promotion of photovoltaic expansion and wind onshore" (in German) can be downloaded at

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.