Lack of European solar manufacturing could cripple RePower EU bid


European solar manufacturers will need 42 times more annual PV cell production capacity if the European Commission's raised ambitions are to be met with Made in Europe products. US research firm Wood Mackenzie this week released that figure to illustrate how threadbare Europe's solar manufacturing industry is.

The commission has stated an ambition to drive at least 420 GW of new solar generation capacity this decade, in a bid to wean the bloc off Russian gas. WoodMac has estimated Europe will supply around 331 GW of new solar by 2031 and this week said the commission's “RePower EU” plans have the potential to double that figure.

However, the Edinburgh-based research firm pointed out that “virtually all” of the 60,000 kilotons of solar panel raw material polysilicon it says Wacker Chemie produces each year is exported to China because there is insufficient demand in Europe. Keeping Wacker product in Europe would require 10 times more nearby ingot and wafer production capacity, 21 times more cell production lines, and three times more solar module capacity, WoodMac estimated.

It said hitting the raised ambition outlined by the commission would require three times more annual polysilicon production capacity, 20 times more wafer lines, 42 times more cell output, and six times more module capability. Solar panel raw material costs drove panel prices up more than 20% in 2021, according to WoodMac. It said the polysilicon price has trebled in the last 18 months and is expected to stay “elevated” throughout 2022.

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Aluminum, copper, and steel prices have all risen more than 30% in the past year, according to WoodMac. The cost of solar panel glass is also rising, it said, attributing the increases to escalating natural gas and tin prices.

The commission's plans to reduce dependence on direct Russian gas supplies could be helped, ironically, if the gas price rise driving solar glass costs is in part alleviated by Russia following through on recently announced commitments to switch euro supply deals to China.

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