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Despite COVID-19 it was the second-best year ever for solar

Brussels’ based member-led association SolarPower Europe reports that despite the setbacks of COVID-19, the European solar market grew by 11 per cent, adding 18.7 gigawatts (GW) of installations.

According to the EU Market Outlook for Solar Power, 2020 was the second-best year ever for solar in the EU, the strongest growth year since 2011.

“It has been a difficult year for all sectors and so it is very positive to finish 2020 with such a clear endorsement for solar power,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe. “Despite the impact of COVID-19, solar has not only grown, it has thrived, proving it to be a resilient, predictable and secure technology where other energy sources failed. Europe is now on track to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world and solar can help achieve this goal, by not only providing renewable and flexible energy but also creating millions of jobs and ensuring a just transition for all Europeans.”

The Outlook shows that Germany is 2020’s largest solar market, adding 4.8 GW, followed by the Netherlands, which added a capacity of 2.8 GW.

“Solar’s steady growth in Europe is due not only to its cost-competitiveness, although it is often the cheapest power generation technology available, but also due to its scalability and innovation,” added Aurélie Beauvais, Policy Director and Deputy CEO of SolarPower Europe. “Beyond installation on rooftops, European-developed applications such as building-integrated PV and Agri-PV, mean that solar can be deployed across all structures and terrains. The technology and potential are there, we now need member states to increase the ambition of their energy and climate plans, and look to low-cost and job-intensive solar as a solution for meeting their targets.”

Poland: all set for continued strong growth

The cumulative installed capacity of solar in the EU reached 137.2 GW in 2020, with 22 of 27 EU member states installing more than the year before. In Central and Eastern Europe, Poland installed 2.2 GW in 2020, more than doubling its capacity from last year. It has been reported that about 1,000 people are directly employed in the production of PV system components and 5,000 people are active in the installation sector.

Source: SolarPower Europe.

This substantial increase in PV capacity is mainly due to a favourable self-consumption scheme for prosumers, which balances out across the year the energy that was delivered to the grid and those purchased from the grid. The expansion of the definition of prosumers to include SMEs has also encouraged this segment to generate renewable electricity for their own energy needs. Furthermore, public support is granted through tenders, in which winners are guaranteed the purchase of their produced energy at a certain price for a 15-year period. Additionally, after a series of regulatory changes, today solar installations enjoy a VAT reduction. Both rooftop and ground-mounted systems below 50 kilowatts (kW) benefit from an 8 per cent VAT instead of 23 per cent. Further support to solar is granted through cost reductions via a reduced income tax; preferential loans and subsides set up through the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management; bank loans with low-interest rates.

As pointed out by Stanislaw M. Pietruszko from the Polish Society for Photovoltaics, the current state of solar in Poland indicates that it is finally becoming a relevant market at the global scale. Falling renewable energy costs, the changing role of coal and new business models in the energy sector are just some of the trends that will shape the solar market in Poland. All these factors contribute to increasing the societal awareness of environmental issues and improve people’s support to the transition to renewables. It is estimated that in 2024 there will be 9 to 11 GW installed throughout the country.

Overall, SolarPower Europe underlines that more commitment for solar on the EU member state level should remain a high priority. While most Member States are increasingly seeing total solar capacities grow and have acknowledged solar in their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) to meet 2030 EU targets, most of these deployment levels are still not ambitious enough. As also shown in the association’s 100% Renewable Europe report, the volume of solar that the EU must install is at least 2.5 times higher than the expected NECP totals by 2030. To enable Europe’s citizens, corporates and financing institutions to embrace the lowest-cost and most versatile power generation technology, even more enthusiastically after the COVID-19 crisis, EU Member States must provide optimal policy frameworks for solar to continue to surprise us positively in the future.

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