Pandemic recovery planning revives quest for European solar manufacturing

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Teresa Ribera, Environment minister of European solar hotspot Spain, was among the officials backing the calls for a new solar manufacturing push. Image credit: World Trade Organization / Twitter

The debate around the choices Europe should make as it bounces back from COVID-19 is breathing new life into the campaign to restore the continent’s position as a solar manufacturing hub.

Governments of major EU countries recently added their weight to the quest to revive European solar makers, battered after years of dominance by low-cost Asian rivals and the phase-out of EU import barriers in late 2018.

In a joint letter, Environment, Energy and Economy ministers of Austria, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain urged the European Commission to enshrine solar, wind and energy storage manufacturing as a “strategic” axis of the COVID-19 recovery.

The EU should, the ministers said, mobilise its various funding instruments in support of renewable manufacturers, unlocking huge economic and environmental gains in the process. With solar specifically, the ministers advised (see box below) to focus on segments such as PV trackers.

The calls from Europe’s very political top come to join the lobbying from solar players themselves. From Akuo Energy to Meyer Burger, 90 firms recently penned a letter urging EU policymakers to treat manufacturing as a post-COVID priority, amid claims a 5-10GW chain is possible in Europe.

The missive has now been followed by a so-called Solar Manufacturing Accelerator. Launched by PV body SolarPower Europe, the platform will seek to bolster the setting up of solar factories and R&D by linking projects with potential partners and financial backers.

Solar manufacturing priorities: The areas EU ministers think the Commission should focus on

“As regards the solar industry sector, the European Union should focus on circular solutions and high added value chains such as: innovative, upper quality PV panels; power electronics to improve grid integration; integration of solar PV and thermal power in industrial processes; and technologies that enable a more efficient use of land, such as solar tracking technologies or building integration of PV. Energy storage technologies allows achieving the full potential of variable wind and solar technologies”

Source: Letter from eight countries to the European Commission

Batteries, hydrogen within sights as EU plots COVID exit

The COVID-19 outbreak has laid bare global solar’s dependency on Chinese manufacturers, sparking calls by development financier the ADB for the supply chain to diversify. India, facing up to 3GW in project delays, has rekindled its campaign to attract PV factories to its domestic ecosystem.

In Europe, whether Commission policymakers will heed the calls to restore solar makers remains unclear. A leaked draft plan for the EU’s post-COVID priorities, seen by PV Tech, recently suggested downstream renewables will be a core priority, with manufacturing scoring a passing mention.

Schemes announced pre-pandemic evidence the Commission’s appetite for more nascent segments. The EU executive has sponsored a €3.2 billion R&D programme to turn the bloc into a global battery-making hub, as well as the PV-to-hydrogen industrial plan known as Silver Frog.

However the Commission ends up moving, some countries are offering to lead the solar manufacturing push. France recently said it would, despite COVID-19, stick to its plan to spearhead an EU-wide revival and bring back the industrial champions “within 10 years”.

As documented by a PV Tech Power feature, the roadmap of president Emmanuel Macron drew praise but also skepticism when it was tabled last year. Views ranged from those arguing such a plan would make Europe less dependent on Asia to others cautioning that success would be tricky.

Separately contacted this year, PVEL CEO Jenya Meydbray noted that Europe retains a sizeable share of global solar manufacturing (around 3-5%) but warned that major growth – up to a point where China’s dominance falters – does not seem likely, given China’s efforts to set up a full value chain.

See here to read the letter for EU ministers and here to access the missive from 90 solar organisations

PV Tech has set up a dedicated tracker to map out how the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting solar supply chains worldwide. You can read the latest updates here.

If you have a COVID-19 statement to share or a story on how the pandemic is disrupting a solar business anywhere in the world, do get in touch at jrojo@solarmedia.co.uk or lstoker@solarmedia.co.uk.

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