Solar PV & Renewable Energy prices


Global Trends in Solar Power – Part 1: A close look at Europe

For anyone interested in the future of the solar industry around the globe, Europe is a key region to be watched closely, as it is the leader in solar energy, containing nine of the largest fifteen solar markets in the world. Despite the prolonged economic downturn affecting solar industry, the debt crisis and a slow decline of government support for solar programs in a number of countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Greece and UK, overall Europe is demonstrating an unwavering commitment to solar energy and many countries have already surpassed their targets for renewable electricity for 2020.

In 2011, new European PV installations accounted for 26.7 % of capacity additions, which is roughly equal to 20.9 GW (over 75% of the global total (27.7 GW)). Moreover, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance report, 2011 was also a strong year for investment into solar energy, with an sizable increase to $136.6 billion, which is a 5 percent increase over 2010 levels and an impressive five fold increase over 2004 totals.

The current trends in the solar industry of a number of leading European countries is profiled in detail.



Solar in Germany

Among all European countries, Germany is an uncontested leader in solar power. Reuters reports that last Friday, May 25, 2012, Germany set a world record when German solar power plants produced 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour! This is equivalent to 20 nuclear power stations operating at full capacity.

After the 2011 tragedy at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, Germany made a bold move to shut down 8 nuclear plants and committed to shut down the 9 remaining by 2022, and replace its power supply with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. In 2011, more than 7,500 MW of photovoltaics (PV) were installed across Germany, as compared to 855 MW in installations across USA during the same year.

Germany’s dedication to green energy started more than a decade earlier. In 2000, Germany introduced the Renewable Energy Act, a first of its kind in the world, which served as a role model for countries around the globe. The Act introduced guaranteed feed-in tariffs, lasting for 20 years at a fixed price. The rates were going to gradually decrease for new installations, and exerted pressure on manufacturers to drive innovation. This scheme not only made solar popular in Germany, its stability, also helped pave the way for major investments into the growing solar industry. According to statistics from Environmental Energy Study Institute, over the last ten years, Germany has increased the share of electricity from renewable sources from five to over 20 percent. This growth also created more than 380,000 new jobs in the solar sector.

It is important to note that an overwhelming majority of German citizens believes that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be urgently addressed and renewable energy is the way to go. As a result, political parties also show strong commitment to renewable energy sources including solar power. For example, the German Federalist Party (currently in power) has a target goal of completely phasing out nuclear power by 2022, becoming carbon neutral by 2040 and using more than 80 percent renewable energy by 2050. The other two opposition parties, the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party, share the same goals but propose even more ambitions timeliness and urge for more rapid movement to renewable energy than the current government.

Solar in Italy



Italy is fast approaching Germany as a leader in solar energy, and is the world’s second largest installer of solar panels. From 2009-2010 installation in Italy tripled in capacity (from about 1 GW to over 3 GW). In 2011, they almost tripled again, after another 9 GW of solar were installed (the world-leading amount in 2011).

This impressive growth is a result of a new feed-in tariff, which was introduced in 2010, as well as a generous grants structure. Moreover, its only natural that Italy has one of the leading solar industries that continue to grow and expand every year, since it has some of the most favorable weather conditions in Europe for solar.

Solar in France, Greece, Spain, and UK

Not all countries in the EU have experienced the steady success of Germany and Italy when it comes to solar power. While demonstrating a clear commitment to solar energy, and moving toward increasing their solar installed capacity, governments in Greece and France have made the decision to slash subsidies for solar power since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008. In 2010, France halted its solar feed-in tariffs completely.

Both Spain and UK are interesting cases in mishandling cuts in government subsidies and therefore undermining investor support and growth of their domestic solar industries. Both countries enjoyed major boom cycles after they instituted their respective feed-in tariffs and other government subsidies. The UK government really shook the solar industry when it attempted to slash support by 70% for big photovoltaic projects and 51% for home installations. This decision was contested in court and found illegal. However, the damage was done to the UK solar market as well as investor confidence in terms of future investments.

Similarly, Spain, which was once one of the biggest solar markets in Europe, also took the route of rapidly cutting government support, shocking its domestic solar industry and leading it from a boom to bust cycle. In Spain, the numbers speak for themselves: in 2008 government support allowed Spain to become a world leader in newly installed PV solar energy (2,605 MW), but already in 2009, cuts lead to tremendous decreases of just 69 MW in installed capacity. By comparison, Germany has been a lot more careful and protective of its solar industry, introducing government cut backs on a gradual basis, which allowed the industry to adjust, and ultimately did not cause major harm to its growth potential.

Solar in Eastern Europe

While Eastern Europe has been much slower in terms of actively pursuing solar renewable energy, seeing the progress made in countries like Germany and Italy, many countries are looking to replicate the success. For example, Lithuania opened its first solar panel production site last year, primarily targeting surrounding countries. Ukraine has a plan to generate 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, which is triple the 2010 level. Ukrainian government support for clean energy development is drawing new investors to the budding solar industry, such as an Austrian firm Activ Solar. Other countries demonstrate a commitment to solar power and growing PV capacities: Austria (100MW) and Bulgaria (80MW).

Next, we will take a closer look at Solar Trends in Asia and US – stay tuned.

Read part II –

Levchik (Leo) is a renewable energy activist from Boston, MA, and has been involved with alternative energy and green construction since 2004.

In 2009, Leo and his green roofing company (CoolFlatRoof.com) sponsored Boston’s Solar Decathlon Team, providing materials and installation labor to install a cool white roof on the top of Curio home (Joint effort by Tufts University and Boston Architecture College) – more info about the project here.

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Written by Levchik B

Posted on June 12th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Solar Prices

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