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‘We have everything, really’: Holosolis on the potential for European PV manufacturing

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“I believe we must have a structure that is, from A-to-Z, European-made, because it’s important from a resilience point of view,” said Jan Jacob Boom-Wichers. Image: EDF Renewables.

The challenges faced by the European solar manufacturing sector are as pressing as they are well-covered. Just this year, the secretary general of the European Solar Manufacturing Council (ESMC) told PV Tech Premium that the entire European sector faces an existential threat, and at last month’s Intersolar Europe event in Munich, many commentators noted that, with cheap Chinese-made products looming over Europe, locating manufacturing on the continent is all but impossible.

However, this did not dissuade a number of Intersolar attendees from painting a more positive picture of the European manufacturing sector. European firms Oxford PV and Sunmaxx unveiled a perovskite tandem module with a power conversion efficiency of 26.6%, evidence perhaps that Europe could leverage its strong legacy of technological innovation to improve its manufacturing output, and French manufacturing startup announced plans to build a new research and development (R&D) and training facility in France this week.

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These announcements, of course, take place within a global solar industry that has seen the price of producing a panel fall to unprecedented levels. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the price of producing a watt of electricity has fallen from 41 cents to 31 cents in the US from January 2020 to June 2024. This trend is even more evident when looking at a global perspective, with the average price of producing a watt halving from 22 cents to 11 cents over this period.

While much of this growth stems from low-cost modules made in China – which accounts for as much as 85% of the world’s solar manufacturing capacity – the combination of high demand for new solar projects and the falling cost of manufacturing around the world could present an opportunity for European developers. One such beneficiary could be Holosolis, a France-headquartered company that has already made headlines for planning to build a 5GW solar module assembly plant in Sarreguemines, on the French-German border.

Challenges internal and external

“European manufacturing in Europe has been declining because of the extremely strong competition coming from China; not necessarily every single time using fair pricing mechanisms,” Jan Jacob Boom-Wichers, Holosolis CEO, told PV Tech Premium at Intersolar, immediately drawing attention to perhaps the greatest challenge facing European manufacturing.

The low cost of manufacturing in China, evident in the BNEF figures, has also been compounded by an oversupply of Chinese-made products in Europe, with Rystad Energy reporting last year that over 40GW of capacity had been imported, but not yet installed, by European developers.

The abundance of products made overseas and Europe’s longstanding grid weaknesses, which threaten many of the targets set out in European governments’ National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), have created a situation where Europe has a great demand for solar power, but developers are not keen to invest in yet more product manufacturing.

“The end customers are large groups that, mostly, do solar not because they want to save the planet, but because it’s an energy generation mechanism that’s cheaper than oil and gas,” explained Boom-Wichers, noting that, with the best will in the world, Europe is unlikely to meet its solar power targets without a viable bottom line.

“They’re doing it for the money, and I understand it, this is what this world is about. But if they take it to the extreme, you have what we have here, which is almost no European suppliers left.”

Boom-Wichers also stressed that while technological innovation, such as Oxford PV and Sunmaxx’s perovskite research, benefits the solar sector as a whole, it may not benefit Europe unless these technologies can be deployed on an industrial scale.

“Niche markets do exist, but every time you have a niche market, and the niche market increases in size and becomes profitable, it gets copied by other countries, such as China, and they come in at a much cheaper rate,” he explained. “So niche markets are not a long-term profitable market segment.”

“Talking about perovskites, we have fabulous research labs all across Europe, but if our ideas – which we develop here, with our own money – get developed industrially in another country, it doesn’t benefit Europe. What we need in Europe are jobs, what we need in Europe is sovereignty.”

The role of legislation

Boom-Wichers’ comments paint Europe as a market keen to expand its solar deployments and eager to invest in new technologies but one that will struggle to do so unless it becomes more financially viable. Last year, many European governments updated their NECPs, which added around 90GW of new capacity to the EU’s deployment targets, and Boom-Wichers argued that the continued support of national governments will be vital if Europe is to expand its upstream solar sector.

“It’s not a fully homogenous market, but with the Net Zero Industries Act (NZIA), clearly the rules are becoming homogenous,” said Boom-Wichers, pointing to the EU’s landmark piece of legislation that will look to encourage domestic clean energy manufacturing, in a similar manner to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the US.

“The role of the NZIA is to say that, of the panels installed by 2030, 40% of them need to be made in Europe. That rule is homogenous across Europe, period. It is then up to the member states to set up rules in their respective countries to meet these goals. So what you start seeing is that every single member nation is able to create their own mechanisms.”

Boom-Wichers pointed to Italy as an example of a country where there are effective incentivisation methods for locating solar manufacturing in Europe, noting that developers can get a tax credit of up to 35% of the cost of installing a solar system for using a module that has located at least two steps of its manufacturing process in Europe.

This is a notable example, considering the ambition of Italy’s NECP; in its latest revision, it increased its solar deployment target by 55%. The use of such financing mechanisms in one of Europe’s larger markets could set a precedent for other mechanisms across the continent.

However, the Italy example also effectively illustrates the uncertainties that can come from relying on a government rather than, say, a trade body more consistently committed to the solar sector to create conditions beneficial for solar. Between February and June this year, the Italian policy on agrivoltaics (agriPV) shifted dramatically from a €1.7 billion (US$1.8 billion) investment to an “illogical” de facto ban on new agriPV projects.

‘It has to be made in Europe’

With European government policy particularly uncertain this year of all years – France, the UK and the European Parliament are all holding elections this year – Boom-Wichers noted that there is a greater need than ever to build a complete European solar supply chain to ensure resiliency for the sector as a whole.

“I believe we must have a structure that is, from A-to-Z, European-made, just because it’s important from a resilience point of view,” he said, naming companies such as NorSun, Wacker and Ferroglobe as European companies involved in the production of critical solar components.

“We have everything, really, that’s there, we just need to help create the structure to help develop that, and that’s what the NZIA is doing.”

Boom-Wichers went on to note that the existential threat of climate change and the need for regions such as Europe to develop robust supply chains capable of enacting the energy transition will help drive change, regardless of individual government policies or the finances of the matters.

“We must have a way to wean our economy from oil and gas. Therefore, we must produce the only alternative energy source, solar, which is the cheapest source of energy and the fastest to deploy at large scale,” said Boom-Wichers. “And it has to be made in Europe, otherwise you’re just going from a dependency on non-European fossil fuels to a dependency on non-European solar panels, and, to me, that’s dangerous because we would be giving away our opportunity to have European energy sovereignty.”

“Once you get into a situation with a monopoly, they always end in tears. If you leave this as a cartel situation, we’ll replicate what we had with oil and gas, again in solar.

“Right now, we’re at the beginning of the solar industry, but with the electrification of our energy system, solar is going to become the main energy source in the world, without a shadow of a doubt.”

26 November 2024
Málaga, Spain
Understanding PV module supply to the European market in 2025. PV ModuleTech Europe 2024 is a two-day conference that tackles these challenges directly, with an agenda that addresses all aspects of module supplier selection; product availability, technology offerings, traceability of supply-chain, factory auditing, module testing and reliability, and company bankability.
11 March 2025
Frankfurt, Germany
The conference will gather the key stakeholders from PV manufacturing, equipment/materials, policy-making and strategy, capital equipment investment and all interested downstream channels and third-party entities. The goal is simple: to map out PV manufacturing out to 2030 and beyond.

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