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The solar industry is ready to contribute to a green recovery – interview with Walburga Hemetsberger

The coronavirus pandemic has once more shown the importance of the energy industry and the urgency to not lose sights of the EU climate targets.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of Brussels-based member-led association SolarPower Europe about the role that renewables will play in helping Europe to reach climate neutrality before 2050.

Early in April, SolarPower Europe together with Finnish university LUT has launched a new report entitled 100% Renewable Europe: How to make Europe’s energy system climate neutral before 2050. The study models a 100 per cent renewables scenario for Europe to reach climate neutrality before 2050. It is the first of its kind to model a fully renewable pathway to achieving climate neutrality for the European energy system, presenting three transition pathways, with varying levels of ambition.

“Our study clearly shows that a 100 per cent renewables-based energy system is the most cost-effective way of becoming climate neutral by 2050, with levelised costs of energy 5-6 per cent lower than in a less ambitious scenario,” explains Mrs Hemetsberger. “Furthermore, only a 100 per cent renewables scenario can meet the ambition of both the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement. The volume of solar needed to achieve this milestone (at least 7.7 terawatts according to our study) is huge, and all European countries will need to step up to increase solar deployment.”

Yet, there are countries where renewables account for the smallest part of the energy mix.

“The EU and national policymakers can create the appropriate frameworks to enable this growth,” notes Mrs Hemetsberger.

This includes, but is not limited to, enshrining the climate neutrality objective into law, developing a pan-European solar rooftop program as part of upcoming renovation wave, investing in the expansion and modernisation of Europe’s electricity grids and focusing on skills and training program to unlock the potential of solar jobs – these are jobs that can especially target former coal regions, where renewables are less present today.

Renewables are not only important for households, but also within other industries such the transportation one, in which RES only make up an 8 per cent share.

“There is certainly a long way to go to reach 100 per cent renewables in Europe,” confirms Walburga Hemetsberger. “However, decarbonisation is possible, with direct electrification as the most efficient solution for road transport and synthetic fuels (hydrogen, methane, power-to-liquids) as the best way to decarbonise the aviation and marine sectors. Interestingly, our study shows that the final energy demand of the overall transport sector will decline by 2050, from 7,200 TWh in 2020 to around 5,000 TWh by 2050. This fact is due to the significant efficiency gains that arise from electrifying the road transport segment.”

According to Mrs Hemetsberger, solar mobility, in particular, offers innovative solutions to decarbonise the transport sector. The benefits of solar mobility are vast and include significant improvements in air quality for European citizens, as well as the reduction of noise pollution. Smart mobility strategies that rely on the increasing deployment of solar energy can lead to a more affordable and reliable solar electricity supply.

“This has the effect of optimising grid integration of future vehicles, unlocking new flexibility sources, and ultimately creating new business models for solar prosumers, EV owners, and charging station operators,” she says. “Solar mobility and all of its related technologies can truly help Europe towards cleaner transportation.”

Mrs Hemetsberger believes that within the EU, the most promising solar markets in the CEE region are Poland and Hungary, as both countries in 2019 passed the GW mark of total installed solar capacity.

Poland’s solar market development has come as a big surprise for solar players, and the newly installed capacities of more than 800 MW in 2019 mean that the solar market quadrupled compared to the 203 MW connected to the grid in 2018. By 2023, we expect Poland’s solar fleet to exceed 3.5 GW.

“Another promising market is Hungary, which has experienced a steady solar expansion in the last few years and is set to follow a positive trajectory,” she highlights. “Outside the EU bloc, a rising solar star is Ukraine, which last year entered the solar GW club, thanks to around 3.5 GW of solar installed year-on-year.”

And many other European leaders and businesses are recognising the importance of a green energy transition. Recently, at the initiative of Pascal Canfin, Chair of the Environment Committee at the European Parliament, 180 political decision-makers, business leaders, trade unions, NGOs and think tanks have come together to form a European alliance for a Green Recovery, including SolarPower Europe.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all European citizens, businesses, and local authorities,” states Mrs Hemetsberger. “It is important that any European recovery package must also support the European Green Deal, putting the continent back on track for green and prosperous growth.”

The solar industry is more than ready to contribute to this green recovery. As our 100% Renewable Europe study shows, solar is set to become the dominant source of electricity generation in a climate-neutral Europe, with the potential to power over 60 per cent of electricity generated in Europe by 2050.

“In 2019, the solar market in the EU grew by over 100 per cent: we must not lose this momentum,” she concludes. “Since solar is the lowest-cost and one of the most job-creating renewable technologies, set to form the backbone of the energy transition, it makes sense to invest in the sector to guarantee a green recovery and accelerate the European Green Deal. SolarPower Europe will continue to champion solar as the most scalable, versatile, and cost-effective energy source, ready to lead the green transition.”

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