Europe’s uptake of solar power is woefully low even in its sunniest southern regions, experts have claimed.
As parts of the continent battle a heatwave, drought and forest fires, figures obtained by Euronews reveal a cooling of enthusiasm for the sun-powered energy source.
The sector in Europe – dominated by just three countries – grew last year at its slowest rate for nearly a decade, in sharp contrast to China.
Germany, Italy and the UK have around 71.5 gigawatts of grid-connected solar power – nearly three-quarters of all capacity in Europe.
But Spain and Portugal – whose capitals enjoy around 1,000 hours more of annual sun than Berlin or London – have installed just six gigawatts between them.
“The contradiction is the sunniest regions in Europe have the lowest installed capacities for solar power,” Ansgar Kiene, an energy advisor at Greenpeace’s EU unit, told Euronews. “It’s not logical. We think there are interest groups that are hindering the flourishing and utilising of the solar potential.
“If we see Europe as a whole there’s a huge over-capacity of electricity production and that means every kilowatt hour of electricity produced by solar or other renewables will displace coal and nuclear and lead to closures of power plants and you can understand the current utilities are fighting to avoid it.”
Kiene agreed solar take-up was woefully low in Europe and said more countries needed to open up the market to citizens.
He said the price of solar power systems have come down, making it an attractive proposition for consumers – allowing them to save on energy bills and make profit on selling the energy to the grid.
Removing subsidies for fossil fuels and putting a solid framework in place to support solar would also help, say experts.
Germany: making hay while the sun shines?
Kiene said it was opening up the market in Germany that allowed the country to become a leader on solar power.
“Obviously the whole thing was begun in Germany, whose new policy kick-started a solar revolution in the country,” he said.
“It was a pretty simple set of policies that would guarantee everyone access to the grid so they could produce renewable electricity and there was a fixed price for it for a fixed period of time and that certainty really triggered a huge run of private investment into renewables. And that’s why Germany is still the front-runner when it comes to solar.”
The countries struggling in the shade
Thomas Doering, a policy analyst at SolarPower Europe, said Spain was among the worst countries for take-up – although four gigawatts of new solar power have recently been given the green light.
One of the key factors holding Spain back – and other countries with low take-up – was too much regulation, he added.
Elsewhere, traditional energy sources are proving hard to shift, according to Kiene.
“In countries like Poland and France, where there is a long tradition of using centralised energy production, there are difficulties.
“And of course that business model has been happily supported by governments over the years and it is positively rooted in the society. So these companies would have difficulty in moving to a decentralised, people-powered renewables society.
“Bulgaria and Romania possess a huge potential but are clearly lagging behind in utilising their potential, they rather stick to the old business-as-usual.
“From our perspective it’s a lack of attention of the national governments to support the energy transition towards renewables and sticking to the traditional, centralised fossil fuels.”
The European Union has committed to produce 20 percent of its gross final energy consumption from renewables by 2020.
Its figure stood at 16.7 percent in 2015, according to Eurostat data.
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Listen to the full interview with Greenpeace’s Ansgar Kiene