The search for ways against a fabless Europe

There was, however, agreement that improved cooperation between the industry and various Member States is necessary. It was also said that Brussels has to revise its subsidy policy, and that companies should make more consistent use of potential cost reductions.

The facts are not new. But industry and policymakers are increasingly becoming aware of their importance: 80 percent of all photovoltaic plants are sold in Europe, yet the share in terms of European production continues to decline. Indeed, only 29 percent of all solar cells were produced in Europe in 2009, and this share dropped to just 13 percent in 2010.

The situation amongst the largest solar cell manufacturers is similar: only one manufacturer among the top ten this year is European, while Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers are out in front.

The governments there have clearly recognized "the strategic importance of the photovoltaic industry," as Eicke Weber, head of ISE in Freiburg stressed at the SEMI Forum.

It was revealed at the event that in recent years the Chinese Government has subsidized four large Chinese cell manufacturers with at total of USD$21 billion in low-interest loans, in order to expand their production.

Does this mean that Europe now, as in Germany, will not only have to subsidize the installation of plants through feed-in tariffs, but also provide substantial financial support for manufacturing as well?

An increase in subsidies is on the whole not very realistic, given the empty coffers in Brussels and numerous Member States; most of the participants at the SEMI event agreed on this point.

However, it was also agreed that subsidies should be reconsidered and modified. "We have to create more incentives than before, in order to not just promote research and development, but application and production as well," insisted Michael Catinat, Head of Unit of DG Enterprise & Industry of the European Commission.

Furthermore, what is important is to put more of a focus on promoting the photovoltaics industry in the competitive clusters of Europe. "We have to achieve a critical mass in order to keep pace on a global scale," emphasized Catinat.

In concrete terms, this means that European subsidies should be concentrated more strongly on already developed clusters, such as in the eastern or southern parts of Germany, said Weber.

But how can the other European regions be convinced that they too will profit from such a concentration of the relevant subsidies? This represented one of the biggest open questions at the event. "For this, Europe will have to see itself in a different light. With narrow-minded nationalism and patronage policies we will lose our ability to compete on a global scale," remarked, for example, Geneviève Fioraso, Deputy Mayor of Grenoble and Member of the French Parliament.

In any case, a long way to go that is certainly more difficult in the democratically governed 27 EU Member States with their European superstructure than in centralistic China.

Greater promotion of application-oriented research also cannot be achieved in Europe from one day to the next, in particular since only pre-competitive research promotion is permitted at present.

What is more easily achieved in any case is closer cooperation between photovoltaic manufacturers on a voluntary basis and even greater use of potential cost reductions, particularly when it comes to the employment of materials.

The SEMI-PV Group now places its hopes at the political level of the EU on, above all, the High Level Group (HLG) on Key Enabling Technologies (KETs), which was established by the EU Commission last year to promote the industrial employment of KETs like photonics, nano-electronics or advanced manufacturing in Europe. A report with the required measures is to be submitted by July.

A more detailed report on the 5th SEMI Brussel Forum will be published in the July edition of pv magazine.