Europe hits 100 GW of solar, but rocky road ahead says MEP

Europe’s combined 100 GW of installed solar capacity exceeds that of China, the U.S. and Japan combined, an audience of solar industry heads was told yesterday in Brussels at the SolarPower Europe 100 GW event. But despite this “remarkable milestone”, Europe is no longer in the global solar race, said Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes.

Held at the BMW Brand Store in the Belgium capital, the SolarPower Europe event was a well-attended celebration of the continent’s bold solar progress.

CEO James Watson kicked off proceedings with snappy retelling of solar’s incredible growth in Europe over the past ten years.

“Considering we were at 3 GW a decade ago, 100 GW is a remarkable milestone,” Watson said. “This is the equivalent to 30 million solar-powered homes in Europe. And the challenge now is to reach the next 100 GW even faster.”

Watson bookended these words with this rather bullish statement of intent: solar is not in the business of asking for subsidy any more.

However, those words struck the wrong chord with Turmes, who had the crowd nodding in agreement with his blustery rhetoric, even calling out SolarPower Europe for going too far on the push for PV to operate beyond subsidy.

“Did the dotcom bubble of 200 stop the internet?”, he asked. “No. Will the solar bubbles of 2009-2011 stop solar? No. But I don’t share the optimism of others. We deployed 6 GW of solar in Europe last year. And with today’s existing policies, we are no longer in the race.”

Turmes rallied at the French government’s decision to continue its generous subsidies for its coal and nuclear industries, and warned that the European Commission (EC) is currently not fit for purpose when it comes to fighting solar’s corner.

“We need strong government, but the EC has neither the courage nor the political majorities to reform the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to something more useful for solar.”

Turmes explained how solar and other renewables are destined to miss out on matters such as priority dispatch while Europe’s energy market is distorted and suffering from overcapacity.

“Priority dispatch in a world of overcapacity leads to solar being the cheapest energy to curtail. The EC will not and cannot reform the ETS to expose coal or nuclear to the market, so they target renewables.”

Maros Sefcovic, Vice President of the EC, spoke glowingly of solar and its progress thus far in Europe, but skirted around discussing any tangible details or plans to aid the continent’s journey to the next 100 GW, speaking instead of more vague regulatory reform that he feels is required.

“What does solar need?,” he asked. “The right conditions for renewables, certainty for investors, better financing conditions to minimize market destabilization, and for the EC to reduce the administrative burden.”