EU PVSEC: European solar sector wants to capitalise on EU energy transformation

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During the opening conference sessions to The 29th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (EU PVSEC 2014) in Amsterdam this year, the call to arms from leading European PV protagonists was for the sector to embrace the energy transformation that could require one trillion euros to achieve.

Connecting the multitude of R&D efforts in member states and repositioning PV as part of an holistic and fully integrated renewable energy driven energy market of the future would not only provide technology innovation but a rejuvenated manufacturing sector, decimated by chronic overcapacity over the last two years, delegates heard.

Following the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission, and with an expected new emphasis on geopolitical energy security and climate change, delegates heard how social-economic policies would dominate EU political thinking, opening new possibilities for European-based PV companies, technology development and job growth. 

Giovanni De Santi, director of the Institute for Energy and Transport (JRC) of the EU called for an integrated roadmap as part of the European energy transition. 

Teun P. Bokhoven, conference general chairman and president of the Dutch Renewable Energy Federation said: “With the geo-political tension in the world today and Europe’s urgent need to become more energy independent, PV can strongly contribute toward a more sustainable energy future in Europe”.

“This period may be a turning point for Europe,” added Bokhoven. “Europe’s PV manufacturing capacity decreased strongly over the past years. Despite this with a strong European market and export potential, new opportunities arise for the upstream side of PV manufacturing, using the latest state of the art of Europe’s technology in producing PV at higher efficiencies and lower cost. The distribution and storage of solar energy will become as important as producing it. New challenges arise. Focus has been in the past on the production of solar energy. Today we need to look far more downstream and address the challenges of energy distribution and storage as well”.

However, Professor Eicke Weber from the Fraunhofer ISE noted that timing was critical for the PV sector in Europe. Weber said there was an opportunity for a real “energy transformation” but said the sector needed to seize the opportunities quickly or risk playing a peripheral part in the transformation. 

Weber reiterated his plans for Europe to establish a gigawatt fab that focused on the right advanced c-Si technology, fully automated manufacturing for both front and back-end processes to be competitive and retain its technology leadership in the sector. 

Indeed, the gigawatt fab idea needed to be implemented quickly to capture expected global PV demand reaching 100GW per annum before the end of the decade. This would need almost a doubling of manufacturing to meet that goal. 

Prof. Weber was encouraged that one of the leading PV manufacturers with very high cell/module efficiencies was said to have lead-times of 12-months, indicating the opportunities for European collaboration in advanced technology to meet demand.

However, it was not only advanced c-Si technology that was touted to bring back PV manufacturing to Europe. Smit Ovens' CEO Wiro Zijlmans saw renewed opportunities for the European building-integrated PV market and thin-film technologies playing their part in the energy transition. 

Collectively, Europe needs to quickly identify and establish what will be the most competitive PV technology for Europe, according to Weber. 

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