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Europe Now Creates Enough Solar Power to Fuel Austria

Leon Kaye | Wednesday September 26th, 2012 | 2 Comments
European Union, Germany, Italy, solar, solar power, solar energy, renewables, renewable energy, clean energy, European Commission, threats to the euro

Erlasee solar field, Germany

Solar power has hit a rough patch in Europe the past year. From Germany to Spain, incentives to boost solar capacity have decreased while local companies struggle to compete against cheap Chinese photovoltaic (PV) imports. Despite the recent fiscal crises, however, solar energy, as stated in a recently released European Commission report, continues to surge ahead in Europe: 280-fold, in fact, between 2000 and the end of 2011. A sector that contributed 185 megawatts of power to Europe’s grid in 2000 has rapidly spiked and will continue its overall boom.

Europe now generates 52 gigawatts of solar energy, which is still only 2 percent of the continent’s total power output–but enough to fuel all of Austria according to various news sources. And despite the continued depressing economic news that has spread from the Atlantic to the Russian border, two-thirds of PV installations across the world in 2011 were in Europe.

Ironically, the same cheap solar panels that some blame for killing European companies have been the driver of the increased solar capacity in the EU. Arnold Jäger-Waldeu, head of the European Commission’s Joint Research Center of Renewable Energy, said in the report’s preface that in come countries the cost of PV-generated power is cheaper than conventional residential electricity prices. In the more competitive markets, the average cost of PV power systems have decreased as much as 60 percent since 2008. Furthermore, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2001 spooked many European countries to boost investment in solar and other renewables. After the USA ($48 billion) and China ($45.5 billion), Germany and Italy were the world’s largest investors in solar with sums of $35 billion and $30.6 billion, respectively.

So despite the sluggish world economy and threats to the euro, solar and clean energy still have a bullish future in Europe. And while the solar power sector in the EU is still small when compared to conventional industries, the past decade has witnessed year-after-year growth ranging from 40 to 90 percent. With the world’s continued thirst for energy, oil will continue to surge in price, which will lead to solar becoming an even more cost-competitive option. As smaller countries from Bulgaria to Greece and even Slovakia witness the construction of more PV installations, recent troubles in the European solar market will prove to be hiccups in the long run instead of evidence of a market that has flamed out.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo of Erlasee solar field in Germany courtesy Wikipedia.


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  • solar equipment supplier

    Solar power has just not reached to the pinnacle of demand in Europe ,infact it has hitted the market all over the world.

  • eastpole

    Leon, you say: “Europe now generates 52 gigawatts of solar energy, which is still only 2 percent of the continent’s total power output…”

    Can that be right? You think Europe is putting out 2500 GW of power, total?

    Based on this ( http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Electricity_Statistics,_2011_%28in_GWh%29.png&filetimestamp=20120507123319 ) I think Europe averages about 350 GW… I am just dividing the reported Euro country GWh for 2011 into the number of hours in a year.

    Maybe we’re getting mired in capacity (GW, power) vs. production (GWh, energy)? I downloaded the EC “PV Status Report 2012″ http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/refsys/pdf/PV%20reports/PVReport-2012-Part1.pdf and it says the EU’s total solar capacity is ~ 51 GW.

    So, if it were ever noon on a cloudless day from Scotland to Turkey (at the same time) then the output would be 51 GW. The distinction between capacity and production is sort of important — it can’t be noon everywhere on the continent at the same time, so European solar energy can’t generate 51 GW.

    Depending on average European cloud cover and daylength, which I can’t easily pinpoint, I’d expect Europe’s solar energy generation to actually be 4-6 GW on average, not 51 GW.

    Because of this confusion I’m now left not knowing whether solar is now reaching 2% of Europe’s production, or just 2% of Europe’s capacity. :(

    The growth so far is impressive, but obviously there’s a lot more to do if Germany is to replace nuclear energy with other low-carbon production. Thanks for pointing out the report and the progress so far!