Solar energy technologies convert sunlight into energy, either as electricity (photovoltaics and concentrated solar power) or in the form of heat, in the case of solar heat.
Solar is the source of energy that is growing at the highest pace in the EU. In 2021, the EU solar photovoltaic market grew by 25.7 GW, for a total installed capacity of 162 GW, while 5.7% of the EU’s total electricity production came from solar energy. Solar energy is cheap, clean, modular and flexible. The cost of solar power has decreased by 82% over the 2010-2020 decade, making it the most competitive source of electricity in many parts of the EU.
The EU has long been a front-runner in the spread of solar energy. The European Green Deal and the REPowerEU plan have turned solar power into a building block of the EU’s transition towards clean energy. Its accelerated deployment contributes to reducing the EU’s dependence on imported fossil fuels. In addition, solar energy is the most accessible renewable energy for households and contributes to protecting consumers from volatile energy prices.
EU solar energy strategy
As part of the REPowerEU plan, the Commission adopted in May 2022 an EU solar energy strategy, which identifies remaining barriers and challenges in the solar energy sector and outlines initiatives to overcome them and accelerate the deployment of solar technologies. It aims to bring online over 320 GW of solar photovoltaic by 2025 and almost 600 GW by 2030. Alongside the plan, the Commission also presented a set of initiatives on permitting renewable energy projects, which are reflected in the political agreement for a revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC). These new legal provisions will contribute to accelerating solar energy deployment in the EU.
The EU solar energy strategy launched 3 initiatives
European Solar Rooftops Initiative
The initiative aims to accelerate the vast and underutilised potential of rooftops to produce clean energy. It includes a proposal to gradually introduce an obligation to install solar energy in different types of buildings over the next years, starting with new public and commercial buildings, but also residential buildings. This proposal is still under consideration by the co-legislators in the framework of the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.
EU large-scale skills partnership
Announced in the Solar Strategy, this partnership was launched in March 2023. It aims at addressing the skills gap in the EU and promotes the development of a skilled workforce in the renewable energy sector. Current bottlenecks in the workforce will become an opportunity for new green jobs in the clean energy transition.
EU Solar PV Industry Alliance
The Commission endorsed the creation of a new European Solar PV Industry Alliance in October 2022 to support the objectives of the EU’s Solar Energy Strategy, which was launched by the Commission together with industrial actors, research institutes, associations and other relevant parties on 9 December 2022.
The alliance is a forum for stakeholders in the sector focused on ensuring investment opportunities for European solar PVs and helping diversify the supply chains, retain more value in Europe and deliver efficient and sustainable PV products. It will also offer policy inputs to reduce Europe’s risk of supply and support domestic industry.
The alliance has endorsed the objective of reaching 30 GW of committed European manufacturing capacity by 2025, across the entire value chain. Reaching this objective would deliver €60 billion of new GDP per year in Europe and the creation of more than 400,000 new jobs.
Photovoltaics is a method to generate electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun by the photovoltaic effect. These solar cells are assembled into solar panels and then installed on the ground and rooftops, or floating on dams or lakes. The EU is funding many solar cell projects, such as the PERTPV project, in which perovskite-based materials were used to build a new type of solar cell.
The photovoltaic technology is becoming more widely used globally. Year after year, photovoltaics make up a bigger part of the EU’s energy mix. In 2021, the EU output of photovoltaic electricity accounted for 5,5% of the EU’s gross electricity output.
Continued growth in the solar energy sector is expected in the coming decades, mostly driven by increased self-consumption and more rooftop photovoltaic installations. This puts the EU at a competitive advantage, helping to drive economic growth and create jobs. By 2020, the solar PV industry created around 357,000 jobs, and it is expected to create 584,000 jobs by 2025, and around 1.1 million jobs by 2030, according to the industry.
Concentrated solar power
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate sunlight and produce heat and steam to generate electricity. They can be coupled to heat storage technologies to produce electricity both day and night. About 2.3 GW of concentrated solar power has been installed in the EU since 2013, but most new projects take place outside of the EU.
Solar thermal technologies
Solar thermal technologies are used mainly to produce domestic hot water in residential buildings and industry through heat collectors. Concentrated solar heat technologies can also be used to provide heat for industrial applications and district heating. The main advantage of solar thermal is that it is cheap, predictable and does not rely on any fuel.
Solar thermal technologies can be deployed in most European regions and are a particularly good option in Europe’s Eastern and South-Eastern countries, where solar thermal heat is often the cheapest option to replace fossil-fuel heating.
The integration of solar collectors in energy-efficient renovations of housing and buildings can contribute to the expansion of these technologies.
- EurObserv’ER – Solar thermal and concentrated solar power barometer 2023
- EurObserv’ER- Photovoltaic barometer 2023
- State-of-the-art for assessment of solar power technologies 2019
- Communication on EU solar energy strategy (COM(2022)221)
- In focus: Solar energy – harnessing the power of the sun (13/09/2022)
- REPowerEU: affordable, secure and sustainable energy for Europe
- Solar energy (DG Research and innovation)
- Solar power (IRENA)
- Enabling framework for renewables
- SolarPower Europe
- International Solar Alliance
- The European Solar Thermal Electricity Association- Estela