EUPVSEC opens with rallying call to Europe's solar industry

With more than 2,000 participants signed up for EUPVSEC and some 40,000 visitors expected to attend Intersolar Europe, it is believed that Munich will host the biggest gathering of solar experts worldwide this week.

In his opening remarks, Giovanni De Santi, Director of the Institute for Energy and Transport at the European Commission, highlighted the milestone of more than 100 GW of PV power having been installed in Europe by the end of last year. In three member countries of the EU, PV power today contributes more than 7% to the overall electricity generation: those countries are Italy, Greece and Germany.

Claude Turmes, Member of European Parliament and president of EUFORES, focused in his speech on one area of concern: despite having been at the forefront of the deployment of PV in the first decade of this century, Europe has since massively fallen behind in terms of annual PV installations. If no additional measures are taken, he fears that Europe risks plunging to around roughly 4 GW of new PV installations in 2020.

In his words, this would be a complete disaster and serves as a testament of how successful the operators of fossil fuels fired power plants have been in scaling back the expansion of renewable power in Europe. He was also concerned that the high financing costs for solar investments in Africa more than outweigh the better irradiation levels present in those countries, so that the promise of affordable solar energy is not becoming a reality in these countries as long as this financing gap remains so wide.

Osman Benchikh, Head of UNESCO’s Renewable Energy Programme, also focused on Africa in his introductory speech. With lack of access to electricity still being such a big issue in many sub-Saharan countries today, solar power has the potential to become the key enabler for economic development in these countries.

In the plenary discussion following these opening statements, Eicke Weber, director of Fraunhofer ISE, once again made the case that Europe would be well advised in his opinion to undertake measures to maintain a European PV production industry. He acknowledged that it would be hard for European manufacturers should European PV demand drop to annual levels below 5 GW by 2020, when at the same time global PV demand is expected to surge to 100 GW annually in that time frame.

Oliver Schäfer, president of SolarPower Europe called upon the politicians to finally move forward with the redesign of the energy market regulations with the goal of establishing solar and wind as the backbone technologies of our future energy supply, with other flexible sources being integrated as needed.

If this transition is not initiated soon, he questions how the short and medium targets for renewable energy contribution in the individual EU member states will be met. Claude Turmes added that already today in Europe there are roughly 25% excess capacities for electricity generation. Without an exit strategy for coal fired power plants and nuclear power plants, the energy regulation would boil down to the question of which electricity source should be curtailed first.

So while there was a sense of pride over what has been achieved in terms of cumulative installed solar power and the cost reductions since the turn of the century, all speakers agreed that the toughest challenges still lie ahead.