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Reaching cost-efficient climate neutrality: the essential reboot of the European PV Industry

Climate neutrality by 2050. That is the stated goal. But how does Europe achieve it?

The European Photovoltaic (PV) sector has faced an era of rapid and complex change over the past two decades. If we flashback to the early 2000s, some argued that European PV manufacturing growth would be continuous and dominant.

That did not happen.

European PV-manufacturing did lead the industry in the 2000s, underpinned by subsidized regional demand driven by the 2004 German Energiewende law. From late in the decade and onwards, China’s PV-industry accelerated, again on the back of regulations that stimulated significant local demand, coupled with regulation-mandated access to growth capital and a considerable knack for large-scale industrial establishments and large-scale industrial operations.

The European PV-industry was unable to stay competitive and exploit new markets and, thus, it waned. One might say the European PV-industry’s near-demise was due to an inability to meet the challenge of the rapid price reductions that drove annual global PV-installations to quadruple from 2011 to 2020.

Currently, Europe, the USA and India find themselves without significant domestic PV-manufacturing. At the same time, annual PV-installations are in the multi-gigawatt scale (Europe and the USA each have domestic annual installation volumes equal to or larger than the entire world market in 2010). Concern has arisen, regarding the complete dependency of importation and the global concentration of production capacity.

Throughout it all there have been stalwarts that are holding out despite sub-scale production capacities. There are also new entrants with exciting new technologies.

Since 2018, a robust conversation has been growing to effectively reboot and recreate a strong European PV ecosystem from polysilicon, ingots, wafers, cells, modules, PV- production equipment, consumables through building integrated solar, large scale solar projects and applied solar solutions like off-grid cooling. To succeed, industry leaders will need to be more future orientated, collaborative, creative and become deeper thinkers.

It should be noted that the European PV industry will be a complement to (not a replacement for) existing capacity in other regions. At the same time, we need to embrace the paradigm of world class speed and scale if we are to re-establish credible European manufacturing.

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