In recent years, the gap between the downstream and upstream solar sectors has widened in Europe and Arnaud Chaperon, Senior Vice President of European affairs at Total, used the launch event of the 35th EU PVSEC show in Brussels to announce the birth of a new association.
The European Solar Manufacturing Council (ESMC) is expected to be founded in early 2019.
“It will be an association of upstream producers and science, not just about cheap modules but also about sustainability, quality and technological advancement,” Mr. Chaperon's Total colleague Luc de Marliave told pv magazine.
“We want to give a voice to the remaining manufacturers in Europe,” Mr. Chaperon had said during his speech. “Market growth is not everything, many producers in Europe are struggling to survive.”
A handful of German module makers left
According to Gaëtan Masson, of the Becquerel Institute, around two thirds of the association's founders will be manufacturers from ten European countries, with the remaining members representing research institutes. The latter need a strong industry as a development and innovation partner.
With Germany in mind, there are still a handful of mechanical engineers and smaller module manufacturers left, but successful manufacturers need large peers. “If we no longer have production in Germany, the laboratory results will be lost,” says Andreas Bett, director of Fraunhofer ISE, one of the co-founders of the ESMC. “In recent years, almost all technological advances came from Europe, but we could lose this leadership if we do not put the results on the market in a timely manner. Bett is also convinced PV production in Germany – and Europe – is competitively possible.
New gigawatt-sized production lines needed in Europe
The ESMC is concerned about getting its voice heard in politics. Winfried Hoffmann, ex-President of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) – the former name of SolarPower Europe – points to the difficult situation in the industry. In his view, it is important to ask ‘what do we need to get the manufacturers here?' Photovoltaics, and manufacturers in particular, have had no allies in politics. But that is slowly changing. “If we have a big market, then we should not necessarily live only on imports,” says Hoffmann.
Above all, Mr. Hoffmann sees problems in financing major new production in Europe. Everyone agrees new gigawatt-sized manufacturing capacities are needed and Mr. Masson also emphasizes that manufacturers need direct and indirect support.
Hoffmann concludes: “Maybe now is a good point for a restart for the manufacturers, because the market is growing.” On this point, there is undivided agreement with Solar Power Europe. Its CEO, James Watson, expects double-digit growth of the European PV market in the years ahead.
To benefit from this, manufacturers need a level playing field, the lobbying group says. In order to make themselves heard in Brussels and other EU member states, they will join forces with PV researchers.