Europe should mull PV manufacturing revival to meet climate goals, scientists say

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Image credit: MPrime

Europe must speed up solar installations “drastically” and consider restarting its decimated upstream PV ecosystem if it is to meet its climate targets, EU scientists have said.

Countries of the EU bloc should have a “fresh look” into whether PV manufacturing can be restored in the continent to help fuel a major boom in installations in the space of just a few years, according to a review by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The analysis noted the EU must, if it wants to reach its climate change goals, take installed PV capacity from around 117GW in late 2018 to 630GW by 2025. The ramping-up of installations should be matched by “realistic regional production” to avoid supply disruptions, the document said.

“The European manufacturing chain could be competitive with factories with an annual production volume from 5 to 10 GW,” the EU scientists claimed, contrasting this with the respective production fleets of 1GW and 3GW they said the bloc hosts today for PV cells and modules.

Should it follow the advice and act to resuscitate PV manufacturing, Europe may find setting up production lines is far cheaper than it once was, the JRC said. The investments required to set up cell and module factories have dropped by around 90% in the past 10 years alone, scientists added.

Europe’s improbable quest to reconquer manufacturing

The JRC is not the first to urge Europe to revive solar makers decimated by cheaper Asian rivals, a pattern exacerbated by the phase-out of EU tariffs. From new association ESMC to French president Emmanuel Macron, proponents have argued that gigawatt-scale growth is possible.

A PV Tech Power feature found last year some industry players are highly skeptical of Macron's plan, with questions raised over whether it is in Europe’s interests to bankroll a return of upstream PV manufacturing. Focusing on storage battery factories instead would be a better avenue to create quality jobs, some said.

Even as the JRC study urged Europe to get behind solar, a separate report by the research body attempted to showcase earlier this month the benefits a renewable shift would bring to coal-reliant areas.

From Spain’s Castilla y León to Germany’s Saxony-Anhalt and the UK’s North Yorkshire, European industrial heartlands could fully offset today’s 200,000 direct coal jobs with green energy jobs within a decade, said this second JRC study.

According to the report, Europe’s coal regions would see 106,681 to 314,416 new green energy jobs by 2030, rising to 460,000 by 2050, if countries stay aligned with long-term climate goals. These areas “do not have to stay behind” in the current economic and social changes, the JRC said.

The feature examining the strengths and shortcomings of Macron's plan to revive EU PV makers was part of PV Tech Power's Volume 20, which you can subscribe to here.

The prospects and challenges of solar's new era in Europe and beyond will take centre stage at Solar Media's Solar Finance & Investment Europe (London, 5-6 February) and Large Scale Solar Europe 2020 (Lisbon, on 31 March-1 April 2020).

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