Opinion - 15/November/2019

The energy transition solution right over our heads

Solar power contributes to a decarbonised society and, due to its continually decreasing price, allows European households to save money on electricity bills, says Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe, as her organisation launches a campaign to get solar panels installed on all new and renovated buildings

In Germany, a typical four-person family household with an average annual electricity consumption of 3600 kilowatt hours could save more than €500 each year if equipped with an average sized rooftop solar system

 

In 2018, a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned we have only 12 years to reduce carbon emissions to avoid dangerous climate change. Today we have 11 years left. Tackling climate change will require a unified effort from all parts of society, but there is one simple thing we can do right now: installing solar on buildings — on homes, offices, schools, factories, government institutions — can help mitigate climate change and create a cleaner, better future for us all.

The EU’s building sector accounts for 36% of the region’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This figure can be significantly reduced by installing solar on all new and renovated buildings. Solar not only contributes to a decarbonised society, but due to its continually decreasing price, European households can save money on electricity bills. In Germany, a typical four-person family household with an average annual electricity consumption of 3600 kilowatt hours could save more than €500 each year if equipped with an average sized rooftop solar system.

As we enter a new chapter of the European Commission, with a proposed Green Deal aiming to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, rooftop solar will play a crucial role. Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President-Designate for the European Green Deal, proposed to “put solar panels on the roof” of public and private housing during his recent hearing in the European Parliament.

While many solutions to climate change can seem too difficult or daunting to the average person, putting solar on your roof is a tangible and effective contribution in combatting the climate crisis. This is already occurring throughout Europe. In cities such as Tübingen, Germany it is obligatory to install solar on all new houses and commercial buildings. European regions, from Styria in Austria to the Spanish Balearic Islands, are considering similar measures.

We recently visited two European sites where solar is making an impact.

 

FRUITS OF THE (SUN’S) LABOUR

Winding gently through the hills of southeast Austria, the Styrian Apple Road is the epicentre of the country’s fruit production, connecting dozens of the country’s premier apple farms. Not all farms in the region are alike, however. Nestled in the small village of Puch, the Wilhelm family farm may, at first glance, appear similar to the many other farms in the area, but covering the roofs of the farmhouse and sheds are dozens of solar panels.

Josef and Josefa Wilhelm have operated the 27-hectare farm since 1980, developing a successful family business producing apples, pears, plums, cherries and peaches, and running a bustling schnapps distillery. In 2012, the Wilhelms opted to transition to solar energy and almost immediately their decision began to pay off.

“The energy [from solar] that is generated here is consumed almost entirely at our own facility. We use this energy to cool our storerooms, for lighting and the rest for electricity. And we save about 25% on energy costs,” says Josef. Solar powers nearly 100% of the farm’s energy needs used to process, store and cool produce from more than 80,000 apple trees.

The farm uses around 85% of the solar power it generates, with the remaining energy fed into the grid. In the future, the Wilhelms hope to power their distillery with solar, and pass on the message of sustainable farming to the next generation of family farmers.

 

CREATING A SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY

Cătălina Ivan understands the many positives of solar power. As a resident of Bucharest’s Cartierul Solar (Solar Neighbourhood), she directly benefits from solar every day. “Looking at the residents living in the Solar Neighbourhood, I would say they are mostly young people, just starting to build their families, and we are all benefiting from the green energy.”

Another resident, Andreea Bordea, points to the significant savings on electricity that solar provides. “The benefit of solar energy in the neighbourhood is that I am saving money on electricity bills and I can spend more time with my family, having a little more money!”

Cartierul Solar is Romania’s first residential complex equipped with solar panels and the largest project of its kind in Eastern Europe. Located in a leafy area of southern Bucharest, the project includes 15 apartment buildings (over 1000 individual apartments), with a combined total of 1800 solar panels, providing residents with over 600 megawatt hours of energy every year.

The simple act of putting solar panels on the roof of the complex not only saves residents money, but has resulted in the development of a sustainable and climate-conscious community. “Living in the Solar Neighbourhood gives us the feeling we can build a really bright future,” Cătălina adds.

 

UNLOCK THE ROOFTOP POTENTIAL OF YOUR CITY

Earlier this year, the European Commission’s Join Research Centre published a report detailing the significant benefits of rooftop solar. Using satellite data, the report found that installing solar on available rooftops in the EU could produce up to 680 terawatt hours a year, representing almost 25% of current electricity consumption. More than 90% of EU roofs are currently unused.

SolarPower Europe’s #Solar4Buildings campaign calls for solar to be installed on all new and renovated residential, commercial, and industrial buildings in the EU. Fitting this rooftop space with solar offers the potential to save up to 7 million tonnes of CO2 each year — roughly the equivalent of the annual CO2 footprint of the city of Lisbon, Portugal.

The energy transition begins on your roof: sign our petition today to put solar on all new and renovated buildings in the EU.

 


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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