The solar swindle: Habeck lets home builders down

In order to fuel the photovoltaic boom, the Ministry of Economics promises homeowners low-interest promotional loans via the KfW. In fact, for many normal consumers, the program only exists on paper: they have to finance the energy transition on their own.

When Robert Habeck announced his photovoltaic strategy three weeks ago, he had a very simple message: “We need to speed up the expansion of solar energy.” The target set by the Economics Minister is in line with what millions of homeowners are currently thinking. In view of persistent inflation, the Ukraine war and skyrocketing energy prices, more and more people are thinking about buying a photovoltaic system. Because with solar power from your own roof, the costs can often be reduced by half or more.

An unprecedented solar boom is therefore currently taking place in the German suburbs from Norderstedt to Gräfelfing. PV system manufacturers are being overrun. Anyone who asks an installer now is usually lucky if the craftsmen come at all within a year.

But the road to energy independence is rocky for many home builders. Not only long waiting times, delivery bottlenecks for solar panels from China and a lack of craftsmen make many people interested in solar long faces. There is something else that leads to frustration: Where should they get the money for their roof power station from?

Promotional loan as a mirage

Because a solar system with storage for a typical single-family house (10 kWp) costs a good 30,000 euros, an energetic modernization loan for it currently has around 5.5 percent interest annually. The Reconstruction Loan Corporation (KfW) has therefore launched the 270 funding program. And promises every company, freelancer and private household a subsidized government loan that needs it for the biogas plant, wind turbines or solar power plant.

In the best-case scenario, only a little more than four percent interest would be due on a KfW loan at the moment. Over the typical term of ten years, this means thousands of euros saved compared to regular bank loans. But many home builders don’t get this benefit: for the vast majority of normal consumers, the KfW program only exists on paper.

“We’ve never had this program before,” says a bank consultant. Of the more than 500 financial institutions across Germany with which he works, not a single one offers KfW 270 development loans – neither DSL Bank, Commerzbank, DKB, Sparda Bank, Bausparkasse Schwäbisch-Hall nor many larger savings banks and Volksbanks. “One of the reasons will certainly be that the program is not worthwhile. The administrative costs make it uneconomic for the banks.”

The banks are “not in the mood” for KfW

When asked, KfW emphasized that “all target groups mentioned are equally entitled to apply” and that “there is no discrimination whatsoever on the part of KfW”. This is of little use to most interested parties. Because the financial institutions to which you submit your application decide on the approval – and not the state development bank.

She even concedes that there are “occasionally problems when applying for KfW funding, especially for small-volume loans.” And gives potential solar interested parties the almost cynical advice to “be persistent and present your project again if necessary”. The photovoltaic forums are full of disgruntled home builders who don’t even get as far as being able to submit a single application.

“The banks often don’t feel like it because it’s cumbersome and not lucrative for them. That’s what happened to me with my house bank, who didn’t want to give me the Kfw270 interest rate despite my top credit rating,” complained a user a few weeks ago. And another wrote last summer: “Our financing partner informed us that we would not find a bank that would take part because the sum was too small and the commission for the banks that broker the KfW products was too low.”

When asked, KfW also emphasized that “it is not necessary for the applicant to already have a business relationship with the selected financing partner”. Reality shows that the banks, for reasons of profit, make exactly that a condition: For example, the consultant of a large German commercial bank, who wrote to a customer last year: “We can only offer these KfW loans to existing customers with a currently registered land charge and ongoing credit commitment accompany.” Or the representative of a medium-sized East German savings bank, who confirmed that nothing could be done in her house without ongoing real estate financing.

Energy transition? Please finance yourself!

The figures from KfW itself also show that its promotional program has a downside. Last year, it invested just 2.1 billion euros in solar expansion. 80 percent of the money flowed into just 400 major projects: ground-mounted photovoltaic systems with an average loan amount of 4.2 million euros.

And even when it comes to solar power from the roof, KfW hardly has its sights on normal consumers: Here, the average funding amount was still more than 75,000 euros. On request, KfW cannot say how many normal home builders there might be. It only confirms that in the entire program – ie in the promotion of solar power, wind power and biomass – 60 percent of the commitments were over 25,000 euros.

“KfW doesn’t have any branches where you can apply for the loans directly. So they can tell you a lot when the day is long. But as long as no one grants them, the support program doesn’t actually exist. They can turn themselves on their heads,” says the bank advisor.

The numbers are a harsh reality check for Habeck’s solar strategy. Because they show that large investors, who already have enough money, collect the lion’s share of state aid. And it is precisely the participants in the energy transition with the weakest capital that receive the least funding – and in fact have to finance them completely themselves.

In order to achieve his ambitious goals – the annual expansion of 22 gigawatts – the minister has to triple the expansion rate in a few years. The declared goal is that half of the total extension should be on existing roof areas. So Habeck also needs home builders. But in the battle for their roofs, he doesn’t have much to offer so far.

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