The Strategist

Will EU solar boom help curb climate change?

02/12/2020 - 06:21

Electricity generated using solar energy is cheaper and more popular in the EU. In 2019, twice as many solar panels were installed here than in 2018.

Pacific Southwest Region
Pacific Southwest Region
“We have entered a new era of development. Solar energy is thriving in the European Union,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, head of SolarPower Europe, the industry’s leading solar industry association. More precisely, one could say that it is flourishing again. Until 2012, the EU has already seen a boom in the use of solar energy.

One of the leaders in the development of this technology then was Germany. However, then the politicians could not create favorable framework conditions for the industry, and the process slowed down: many companies that produced solar panels went bankrupt, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs, and Europe gave China a leading role in this area.

Is now the boom is repeating itself? According to SolarPower Europe, in 2019 more new solar panels were commissioned in Europe than any other power generation technology. Currently, approximately 5% of the EU's electricity needs are provided by plants using solar energy. In 2018, the total capacity of the photovoltaic systems operating in the European Union was 115 GW. In 2019, almost 17 GW was commissioned, which is two times more than a year earlier, according to the industry association.

The main reason for the new rise in the market was a sharp drop in prices for solar panels. The price for them today is less than a quarter of what it was in 2010. As a result, the cost of producing electricity using solar energy decreased.

Solar panels are often the cheapest way to generate electricity. For example, in Germany, the cost of electricity generated by solar panels installed on roofs of buildings is less than one third of the cost of electricity in the German market. Also, electricity generated from solar energy in Europe is much cheaper than that produced by new coal, gas and nuclear power plants - its cost is usually two times lower.

In addition, unlike methods for generating electricity from fossil fuels, solar energy does much less long-term damage to the environment, climate and public health, a study by the German Federal Environmental Protection Agency (UBA) shows.

Is there enough solar power?

In the next four years, new photovoltaic plants will be built in Europe, with a total capacity of about 100 GW, and under an optimistic scenario - 145 GW, the SolarPower Europa organization, which is developing solar energy in Europe, calculated.

"The increase in photovoltaic plant capacities is pleasing. However, this is only the first step in the right direction," said Professor Claudia Kemfert, Head of the Department of Energy, Transport and Ecology of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). In her words, Europe has to do "much more" to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, concluded in 2015.

Andreas Bett, head of the Fraunhofer ISE Institute for Solar Energy Systems, also points out the need for speedy action by European politicians.

He welcomes the new Green Deal strategy to improve the environmental situation in Europe, which was adopted by the European Commission in December 2019. But he adds that, in terms of speed, it is not enough to prevent the temperature on Earth from rising by more than two degrees Celsius in accordance with the Paris climate agreement. "This means that we need to significantly accelerate the process of restructuring the energy sector," says Bett.

In the EU, solar energy can receive an additional impetus for development if Europe itself produces more photovoltaic systems. According to an ISE study, manufacturing solar panels in Europe is cost-effective, as it will reduce the cost of transportation from Asia. As for the place for installing solar panels, it is quite enough in Europe, according to Bett. So far, only about ten percent of the houses in the EU have roof mounted photovoltaic panels.