European Commission launches industry alliance for ‘Made in Europe’ solar photovoltaics –

On Friday (9 December), the European Commission officially launched the European Solar Photovoltaic Industry Alliance with the aim of recovering their production capacity lost to China and establishing an industry. “made in Europe”.

The new alliance will encourage investment in large plants and target annual production of 30 gigawatts (GW) for each major solar component by 2025, more than six times the current capacity of around 4.5 GW per year . .

“With this alliance, we want to create complete value chains for solar photovoltaics” in Europe to “reduce our addictions[énergétiques]» and to create value in the European Union, said the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, who spoke at the official launch of the alliance.

Europe has a lot of catching up to do. Of the 450 GW of PV modules produced worldwide in 2021, less than 9 GW were produced in the EU.

This year, almost 40 GW of photovoltaic solar panels are expected to be installed in the 27 Member States, which is a new record. However, this result will be achieved thanks to the doubling of exports of photovoltaic solar panels from China, said Breton.

“We have lost our market share and we are finding it difficult to take advantage of the potential employment in this sector”he warned.

For Mr. Breton, this constitutes the “green irony” : although solar energy is “really important” with decarbonization and energy independence from Europe, the bloc is almost entirely dependent on China for the production of photovoltaic solar panels.

Currently, Beijing controls 80% of the world’s production capacity for photovoltaic solar panels. As for polysilicon and ingots, Beijing will soon control nearly 95% of this global capacity, Breton said.

“In other words, one of the seven billboards in the world” is produced in China, often in an unsustainable way, says the French European Commissioner.

“They’re here [notre] difference [de production] and chance”he added and clarified that this is exactly why the new solar industry alliance will be beneficial to us.

“Not a second to waste”

The industrial alliance is part of the EU’s solar energy strategy, published in May and alongside wider EU plans to end Europe’s reliance on Russian fossils following the invasion of Ukraine.

The goal is to deploy nearly 600 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaic capacity by 2030, with an intermediate target of 320 GW by 2023, more than twice the Union’s current production.

More recently, the Commission presented a proposal to accelerate the licensing of renewable energy, which should help to speed up the deployment of solar energy in the EU. For example, projects to install solar systems on roofs and small solar installations with a capacity of less than 50 kW will not be subject to an environmental impact assessment.

According to Mr. Breton, Europe should speed up the permitting and financing process.

“We cannot afford to wait two years to fund some projects”he said and added that he expects better communication from the European Investment Bank (EIB) in this regard.

Developments on the regulatory side are also expected. Mr. announced Breton is the new one “standard” environmental and social requirements for the production of solar panels by mid-2023. “This will contribute to the establishment of a level playing field and sustainable conditions of competition, especially by examining the requirements in terms of carbon footprint” regarding photovoltaic solar panels, he said.

The Frenchman insisted that Europe needs to act quickly, as 100,000 jobs in the sector are at stake, according to him.

“We don’t have a second to lose”.

A sector that is both enthusiastic and reluctant

The European solar industry applauded the initiative, but also expressed concerns about a lack of funding and rising manufacturing costs caused by high electricity prices.

“After years of concern, the European solar sector is encouraged by unprecedented political attention from the EU and by investment opportunities directed at the construction of solar panels and components”said SolarPower Europe, an industry association.

What is missing is “dedicated funding for the construction and management of factories”he said in a statement.

Others highlighted shortcomings in the EU’s approach. “To truly succeed, this alliance must be anchored in an ambitious and strategic master plan for the continent’s future industrial base”which also takes into account energy costs for manufacturers, said Wacker Chemie AG, a German chemical company and leading producer of polycrystalline silicon, an important component of photovoltaic modules.

“Electricity prices are very high and energy-intensive businesses in Europe are completely unable to compete with their counterparts in other parts of the world, where electricity prices are lower”says Wacker Chemie.

“Europe cannot be content with partial steps. The future belongs to those who are brave and have a clear goal in mind”he added and cited as an example the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States.

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