EU member states charging toward unambitious PV targets – SolarPower Europe


The latest, bullish EU solar industry report published by trade body SolarPower Europe has attempted to avoid the risk it will again make forecasts which prove too conservative, even if its predictions are usually more positive than those made by analysts outside the industry.

The resilience of solar during the Covid crisis of last year has again been demonstrated this time around, with the trade body expecting a record 25.9 GW of photovoltaic generation capacity to have been added in the last 12 months – a European high.

That has prompted the authors of the EU Market Outlook document for 2021-25 to “significantly” raise its forecasts for the four years ahead and the study also highlights how the leaps made by the industry have left the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) set by EU member states at the end of 2019 looking somewhat unambitious.

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Get the latest edition of pv magazine today to read about the kinks in the global supply chain which, like the mixed-bag outcome of COP26, have kept a significant portion of this year’s progress tangled up. We find more to celebrate than condemn, however, for 2021 was another record year for solar installations, and the forecasts for 2022 look even more promising.

Estonia and Latvia have already achieved the solar targets they set themselves for 2030 and Poland, emerging market Ireland and Sweden are all expected to follow suit next year, according to SolarPower Europe. Slovenia – one of only two EU member states, along with Belgium, to have installed less solar this year than in 2020 – will be the laggard, or perhaps the only nation with far-sighted politicians, as it will attain its solar goal at the end of the decade, one year after Italy – where permitting hold-ups continue to delay installation; Austria, and Slovakia.

By contrast, a slew of member states will secure their NECP ambitions well before 2030, prompting SolarPower Europe to call for much more ambition when the goals are due to be revisited, in 2023.

The trade body also used its latest report, published yesterday, to renew a call for the EU to raise its ambition of having 32% of final energy use from renewables in 2030 to 45%, rather than the 40% suggested by the European Commission. Appeals for faster permitting and 20 GW of polysilicon-to-module solar manufacturing in the bloc, by 2025, were also aired again.

Still short

With modelling by Finland's Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology having estimated Europe will need 870 GW of solar in 2030 to stay on track for the most affordable route to a maximum global temperature rise of 1.5C this century, SolarPower Europe's, most likely medium scenario predicts 672 GW will be installed by that point, via 328 GW in four years' time.

In terms of the numbers, Germany continued to lead the way this year, with 5.3 GW of solar added, ahead of Spain (with 3.8 GW of new PV), the Netherlands (3.3 GW), Poland (3.2 GW), and France, which added 2.5 GW this year after a figure of just 800 MW in 2020. That means Germany now boasts 59.9 GW of Europe's 165 GW of installed solar generation capacity. Italy, the only EU member state SolarPower Europe did not deem to have a sunny outlook for solar, in terms of political backing, reached 22 GW of photovoltaics this year, ahead of Spain (with 17.9 GW), France (13.2 GW), the Netherlands (13.1 GW), Poland (7.1 GW), Belgium (6.9 GW), Greece (4.8 GW), Hungary (2.9 GW), and rising star Denmark (2.8 GW).

That meant Denmark and Sweden entered the top 10 of EU solar markets in place of Belgium and Portugal, with the 200 MW of solar added in Denmark in 2020 rising sixfold to 1.2 GW this year. Greece more than trebled the 500 MW installed last year, to 1.6 GW, with Hungary and Italy each adding 800 MW this year, and Sweden 700 MW.

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The rapidly expanding solar market in the Netherlands, notwithstanding its well-publicized grid constraints, meant the nation supplanted Germany as the EU member state with the highest per capita volume of solar capacity, with 765 W per person, or a fifth of all households according to trade body Holland Solar. Germans had 715 W each, Belgians 596 W, the Maltese 491 W, the Danish 490 W, Greeks 465 W, Estonians 412 W, Luxembourgois 405 W, the Spanish 384 W, and Italians 364 W.

Peering ahead, SolarPower Europe's medium scenario anticipates around 30 GW of solar will be added in the EU next year, even though rising panel prices are set to continue for “several more months,” before returning to more normal levels in the second half of 2022, according to the trade association.

The new German government's decision to double its 2030 solar target to 200 GW will help the EU market recover to 38.5 GW of new solar in 2023, according to the 68-page report, with 44.6 GW expected in 2024 and 49.7 GW the year after. Within those figures for the bloc, Germany will add 47.7 GW of solar out to the end of 2025, with Spain, helped by a “gigantic pipeline under development” and being “probably the world's largest market for subsidy-free solar,” adding 18.9 GW.

The next rising star

The Netherlands could add a thumping 17 GW over the next four years, according to SolarPower Europe, ahead of France (15.1 GW), Poland (9.7 GW), Denmark (8.9 GW), and Italy (7.1 GW). Sweden is expected to add 4.6 GW to 2025, to reach a total 6.3 GW, and the European trade association expects the Irish market to take off, with its current 100 MW of solar expected to be swollen by 2.7 GW over the next four years. Belgium, though, will add only 3.9 GW to the 6.9 GW it has, over the same period, in part because the government has not made enough plans to expand its grid networks.

Lack of grid capacity and land continue to be problems in Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland; and Austria and Czechia will also suffer from a lack of solar workers, according to the study. Renewables auction plans should be fleshed out in Croatia and in Portugal, said SolarPower Europe, with the latter expected to hold its next procurement round next month. With permitting troubles again cited in Italy, as well as Spain, Portugal, and France, the report also suggested Ireland's varying local requirements be standardized. And there is rising opposition to big solar in some parts of Spain, as well as in Czechia, where negative perceptions remain of how developers cashed in on over-generous feed-in tariffs in the past. A lack of sufficient finance in Cyprus, which also suffers from having no connection to mainland electric grids, was also mentioned.

Carbon capture

Other interesting nuggets from the document included the fact plans to restore lowland and wetland habitats in Denmark, for natural carbon capture purposes, could free up agricultural land for solar; the fact the Netherlands is proposing biodiversity-gain certification for solar parks to combat NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) sentiment; and that rising wholesale energy prices in Spain are again burnishing the solar business case. Back in Denmark, local elections last month held up solar projects and, in Poland, an expected fall in small-scale solar from April – when net metering will be replaced by net billing – is set to be counterbalanced by more big projects, starting with a 998 MW clean power auction this month which is expected to be dominated by PV.

SolarPower Europe added, if all its policy wishes are granted, the bloc could add 35.7 GW of solar next year, rising to 65.8 GW in 2025. On the flipside, obstructive policy, trade conflicts, import bans and the like could lead to its low scenario, of 22.2 GW of solar next year, climbing to 32.3 GW in four years' time.

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