Europe installed a total of 6.9 gigawatts of new solar power in 2016, a 20% decrease over the previous year’s figures, a decrease which flies in the face of a global increase in installations of more than 50%, according to new figures from SolarPower Europe.
New figures from the European solar trade body, SolarPower Europe, showed that Europe’s solar industry backslid while the rest of the world powered forward in 2016. European countries only installed 6.9 gigawatts (GW) of new solar capacity in 2016, compared to the 8.6 GW installed in 2015 — a 20% decrease. However, while Europe fell backward, the rest of the world — led by Asia and America — saw their installations over the same period increase by around 49%, from 51.2 GW in 2015 to 76.1 GW in 2016.
“Once a solar leader, the European Union is in danger of being eclipsed by Asian powerhouses, such as China, in both solar power production and installations,” said Michael Schmela, Executive Advisor and Head of Market Intelligence at SolarPower Europe. “Even the US, with a much smaller population than the EU’s 28 member countries combined, added about twice as much solar power capacities in 2016.”
In reality, these figures are not entirely surprising. Policy support for renewable energies of any kind has recently been fluctuating in several major European countries, and the demand for solar in Asia, particularly, has skyrocketed over the past few years as the demand for non-fossil fuel-based electricity generation has increased (backed by government initiatives and policies).
Unsurprisingly, therefore, China was the largest solar market in 2016, installing 34.2 GW according to official reports — a 125% increase over 2015. The United States followed behind, installing 14 GW in 2016, up from only 7.3 GW in 2015. Japan ranked third, installing 8.6 GW, and India fourth with 4.5 GW.
“2016 will be remembered as the year that the first solar power purchase agreements were signed at levels that have made solar the lowest-cost power in many regions of the world,” explained James Watson, CEO at SolarPower Europe.
“With clean solar being cheaper than inflexible generation technologies in much of Europe today, there is the need to drive the next solar investment cycle so we can pursue the decarbonisation of the European power sector. This requires the right policy framework. The Clean Energy Package recently presented by the European Commission provides very concrete and actionable levers, though there is still room for improvement.”
Given the consistent, if lackluster, performance of the European solar industry, SolarPower Europe is calling on European Parliament and Member States to consider five priorities that it believes will “unleash growth for cheap and clean solar power in Europe” when it comes time to negotiate the Clean Energy Package. Those five priorities are:
- We need a strong and ambitious governance framework to steer investment in clean energy
- We need to ensure that flexibility roadmaps are set-up in all countries, to facilitate the uptake of more variable renewables but also address the overcapacity issue in the power sector
- We need to adjust market rules to make them fit for variable solar electricity and we need to create local flexibility markets to ensure that all the services provided by solar and storage are properly remunerated
- We need best practices for the design of tenders to accompany further cost decreases while ensuing project realisation
- We need a strong framework for self-generation and consumption to place consumers and communities at the center of the energy transition
“After having inspired so many regions in the world, Europe needs to find its own inspiration again and act as the leader of the energy transition,” added Alexandre Roesch, Policy Director at SolarPower Europe. “We need to build a major industrial project around solar and renewables. To start with, increasing the 2030 renewable energy target to at least 35% will send a strong signal that Europe is back in the solar business.”
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