As we look ahead to the monumental year that 2020 is set to be, it is clear there has never been a more exciting time to work in the solar sector. The European Green Deal promises to transform our society, economy and politics to reach climate neutrality before 2050. The climate and energy milestones identified in the Green Deal framework will require a massive ramp-up in the installation of renewables. Solar is primed and ready to deliver. As the lowest-cost, most-scalable and cleanest renewable technology, solar is the clear choice to usher in a new era of European energy production.
This argument is strengthened by the fact Europe is the home of state-of-the art solar technologies and innovation, with world-leading research institutes and manufacturers. To take full advantage of this potential, however, we need a comprehensive industrial strategy for the European solar value chain, with a particular focus on manufacturing. An industrial strategy will remove barriers to investment across the whole value chain, provide access to special financing, simplify and standardise administrative requirements, and offer strategic support to cutting-edge solar industrial projects.
With the European Commission due to announce its industrial strategy plan, now is the time for the EU executive’s Strategic Forum for Important Projects of Common European Interests (IPCEI) to push for the inclusion of solar, and the renewable industry as a whole, as strategic value chains. The Forum’s mission is to provide the Commission with advice and expertise to build a common vision on the key value chains for Europe and facilitate agreements to take forward new joint investments.
Recognising solar PV as a strategic value chain would allow European solar companies to boost industrial leadership and secure Europe’s energy supply. In the context of the Green Deal, policy makers have a golden opportunity to implement an industrial strategy that will keep Europe at the forefront of solar technologies.
SolarPower Europe has been a pioneer in advocating for an industrial strategy for solar in the EU. In 2016, the association launched its Industrial Competitiveness Task Force to ensure EU leadership on the existing and next generation of solar technologies, manufacturing and services. The Task Force has already been successful in bringing these issues to the Commission, contributing to the launch of a Clean Energy Industrial Forum with a dedicated renewables branch under the patronage of the former EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.
We have focused on building momentum for an industrial strategy for solar by joining forces with several solar PV research institutes such as Fraunhofer ISE and 18 national associations, all urging the Commission to establish a strong industrial strategy for our clean energy technology. We have also helped coordinate the so-called Silver Frog project, which proposed the construction of a cutting-edge two gigawatt (GW) a year solar PV manufacturing facility that would focus on the production of 100% renewable hydrogen. This project shows how solar can facilitate the development of renewable hydrogen and the vast industrial opportunities that exist. These opportunities can be accelerated with an industrial strategy.
An industrial strategy will allow the solar sector to fulfil its potential, creating over 500,000 solar jobs across Europe by 2030, supporting the deployment of leading solar technologies that build on Europe’s pioneering R&D, and further ensuring that European technologies are present in all major emerging markets around the world.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has promised that industrial policy will go hand in hand with the European Green Deal, commenting that: “At the core of [the Green Deal] will be an industrial strategy that enables our businesses — big and small — to innovate and to develop new technologies while creating new markets. We will be global standard setters. This is our competitive advantage. And the best way to ensure a level-playing field.”
The time is right to put our vision into practice. Last year, solar grew in the EU by over 100%, with a total of 16.7 GW of installations. This made 2019 the strongest growth year for solar in the EU since 2010. Our EU Market Outlook projects record-breaking installations in the coming years, with an all-time high of 24.3 GW of solar to be added in 2022 and a further 26.8 GW in 2023. This installation boom will bring with it hundreds of thousands of local and highly skilled jobs to Europe. Projections by LUT University in Finland show solar has the potential to create 1.73 million jobs by 2050 or 51% of all European energy jobs, making solar the most job-intensive energy technology.
We are already calling the 2020s the “solar decade” and maintain our goal to ensure more energy is generated by solar than any other source by 2030. An industrial strategy for the European solar value chain will boost innovation, services, and manufacturing in Europe, unlocking the full potential of solar to pave the way to climate neutrality before 2050. The prospects are bright, the future is sunny, and we are ready to deliver.
The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
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