SolarPower Europe’s Industrial Strategy Is Almost Ready

- Mar 08, 2019-

At the Solar Power Summit in Brussels today, the industry group said it is preparing to launch a supply-side oriented industrial policy for the PV sector in Europe. The manufacturing sector on the continent has been hard hit since 2012, and has been buffeted by a range of unfavorable policy decisions.

Industry body SolarPower Europe today said it is in the final stages of drafting an industrial policy for the European PV sector.

IndustrialAt the Solar Power Summit hosted by the organization in Brussels, CEO Walburga Hemetsberger said the PV value chain employs 80,000 people in Europe, and she wants that number to rise to 300,000 by 2030. To that end, SolarPower Europe will submit a strategy document to the European Commission on March 18.

“Europe has to work on its internal competitiveness, you can develop as much investment cluster and alliances as you want, if you are not providing a competitive space when it comes to taxation, administrative procedures permitting etc. you will not retain this investment in Europe,” said Aurelie Beauvais, policy director at SolarPower Europe. “It is very important that they go hand in hand. Investment on the supply side, growing demand and also enabling a favorable environment. That is not only valid for solar but valid for all manufacturing in Europe, actually.”

Beauvais cited an example mentioned by Christian Westermeier, president of SolarPower Europe and VP for marketing, sales and application engineering at silicon producer Wacker Chemie. Westermeier said the paperwork associated with opening a silicon factory in Europe would take two or three years to complete. In China, the same process would take just 12 months.

Demand-side support

CEO Hemetsberger suggested Europe should have 30 million new rooftop PV installationsby 2030 but insisted SolarPower Europe will continue to support large-scale project development, even as rooftops and building-integrated PV become more influential.

She said low hanging fruit could boost PV demand in the mobility and space heating sectors in the short-term and, further out, decarbonizing the steel and chemical industries would offer great potential for solar.

Beauvais said demand was still likely to fluctuate, thanks to the immature, boom-and-bust nature of the solar industry but that lessons were continually being learned, as shown by the fact European developers are focusing on quality to lengthen plant lifespans.

Tender requirements not the point

The policy director said SolarPower Europe does not take a position on specific tender requirements, such as local content stipulations or the contentious carbon footprint regulations applied in France, but said the organization’s new industrial strategy had a global ambition. While tender requirements may favor certain manufacturers in certain markets, she said, they will do little to enhance European manufacturing on the world stage.

“Yes, tenders are a driver,” she added, “but also, they will become less and less important as we are moving towards subsidy free [projects]”.

With early adopter European markets regarded as having led the world on solar, Hemetsberger gave an interesting insight into how the solar world has changed by suggesting in her speech the Old World could learn from China.

And with patents an hot topic in the last few days, the CEO suggested a European version of China’s innovation-driven Top Runner program could help transfer the mass of patents in Europe’s solar industry into the wider market. Until now European-developed patents have often been brought to market by Chinese or U.S. companies.

No quarrel with Becquerel

In September, Becquerel award winners took the stage in Brussels and announced they would launch the European Solar Manufacturing Council to lobby on behalf of the European PV manufacturing sector. That represents no problem for Beauvais and her organization, she said, with the policy director adding: “SolarPower Europe represents both the downstream and upstream sector, lobbying for the demand and supply-side of the European solar sector.”

Beauvais said SolarPower Europe had been working for the supply side of the industry since 2017, including providing guidelines on tax incentives, a reduction of admin barriers and easier access to financing programs, land and infrastructure.

She added, her organization has been working closely with its 200-plus members and the European Commission to produce its strategic plan. “In the end, it will be choice of the policymakers,” she said, emphasizing the strategies of SolarPower Europe and the ESMC could complement each other and that there could be collaboration in future.