The vertical way: Future of the energy transition

Interview with Sascha Krause-Tünker, Managing Director of Next2Sun Technology GmbH

Sascha Krause-Tünker, Managing Director of Next2Sun Technology GmbH
Sascha Krause-Tünker, Managing Director of Next2Sun Technology GmbH

Either agricultural cultivation or photovoltaics – that has mostly been the credo when it comes to the use of open spaces. However, Next2Sun Technology GmbH demonstrates that it is worth thinking 'in the other direction' with its concept of the vertical arrangement of bifacial solar modules: Thus, photovoltaics can be operated on an area that remains available for agricultural use – and covers the power demand at times of the day that the midday peak does not reach.

Wirtschaftsforum: Mr. Krause-Tünker, founded in 2015, Next2Sun Technology GmbH has been on the market for almost a decade. As a solar provider, it is therefore one of the pioneers in this field – with a not-so-everyday concept. What was the original idea behind it?

Sascha Krause-Tünker: We are very well known today for our concept of agrivoltaics. It's about the dual use of agricultural land for both farming and photovoltaics: the land serves on one hand for the cultivation of agricultural products, and on the other hand for solar power generation through solar modules mounted in wide rows vertically. The idea was conceived by our CEO Heiko Hildebrand. At the time of founding Next2Sun, however, he was more driven by another issue that is only really relevant today, namely the availability of renewable electricity at all times of day and night. To be able to use solar energy in the mornings and late afternoons, he initially mounted solar panels vertically on walls. In 2015/2016, the first prototype of a bifacial module, usable on both sides, was built – the results were so impressive that we continued to pursue the vertical theme and today the bifacial, vertically mounted modules are the basis of our agri-PV and solar fence concepts.

Next2Sun - Vertical Concept
Derived from the Vertical Concept of Next2Sun: The solar fence was awarded the Austrian Solar Prize in 2019
Next2sun Solar Panels
The vertical arrangement of the solar panels allows for the utilization of solar energy in the morning and late afternoon

Wirtschaftsforum: The path you have taken with this new technology is very different from what the market commonly knows. Don't you have to do a lot of educational work here?

Sascha Krause-Tünker: Indeed, but the advantages are clear: With our concept, we serve both the counter-cyclical electricity production, which covers the morning and evening electricity demand, and the preservation of the area for primary agricultural use. However, while we achieve better PV yield and retain almost the entire agriculturally usable area, we also only have half the PV coverage density. The problem here is the financial weighting, because the monetary value creation of agriculture is relatively low compared to that of PV. The energy sector has therefore been quite reserved so far. We have to convince them that our way is the one with which the future of the energy transition can be shaped.

Wirtschaftsforum: You said that the results of the vertical installations are impressive – does this mean in terms of efficiency and yield?

Sascha Krause-Tünker: Exactly. In fact, there is a scientific study from 2013 that shows that the installations deliver even more yield the further they are from the equator, compared to conventional south-facing installations. Tendency-wise, north of the Alps with an east-west oriented vertical installation, we even achieve better yields than with a conventional south-facing installation.

Next2Sun Agricultural Land
Preserving agricultural land while simultaneously using PV for power generation in a counter-cyclical manner: the agri-photovoltaic concept

Wirtschaftsforum: As you demonstrate with another product, the vertical concept is not only applicable to PV systems.

Sascha Krause-Tünker: We have developed a solar fence, which is a retail product derived from the vertical concept. The solar fence covers a wide range of applications: from enclosing private homes or holiday houses to public spaces, such as parking lots. We received the Austrian Solar Prize for this product in 2019. Essentially, the whole concept can also be expanded to transportation infrastructure: we currently have a very visible project with Frankfurt Airport, where we are building the largest PV system in the Rhine-Main area, with 14.4 MW, along runway 18 West.

Wirtschaftsforum: Where do you engage with your customers?

Sascha Krause-Tünker: We are present at numerous fairs and exhibitions, such as Intersolar, Agritechnica, the DLG Field Days, the Organic Field Days, and in the USA at the AgriVoltaics Conference, the Key in Rimini, Italy, and in Wels, Austria.

Next2Sun - Solar Fence
A solar fence made of bifacial (usable on both sides) modules not only delivers high yield but is also an eye-catcher
Next2Sun - Solar Fence
The solar fence is suitable for use on private properties as well as in public spaces, such as parking lots

Wirtschaftsforum: Next2Sun has found a way to combine energy generation with the preservation of agricultural land. This goes far beyond just making money. What is your personal drive in your work for the company?

Sascha Krause-Tünker: For me, it's the fact that the energy transition needs us. The past years have been about developing new products and technologies and opening up new markets – not an easy path, but I am convinced that we can achieve societal progress this way.