Another milestone for solar power was passed this summer, with production across the EU accounting for a tenth of the bloc’s electricity during June and July.
The report from Ember, a think-tank focused on reforming the carbon market and removing coal from the energy mix, comes with an important caveat: even at their peak, solar panels still generated less electricity than the EU’s coal. Solar production reached 39TWh during the summer months, but coal fired generation was still producing 58TWh (14% of European production) during the same period.
Nonetheless this still an important milestone for solar production, coming in the wake of the revised targets for renewable production (40% by 2030) issued by the EU Commission as part of the Fit for 55 package. But it shows how far is still left to go to reach the ambitious targets that the EU member states need to meet in order to achieve the emissions reductions necessary to slow and eventually halt climate change.
Ember highlight that seven EU countries were able to generate over 10% of their consumption from solar this summer: the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Denmark and Estonia. Hungary is a particular success story, having quadrupled its solar output compared to summer 2018, while Spain and the Netherlands have both doubled production compared to three years ago. The presence of multiple northern countries on this list shows that the ‘solar frontier’ truly is moving north, slowly but surely.
Yet other countries in Europe are still lagging behind in terms of renewable penetration. Most surprisingly, France is likely to miss targets for 2023 based on current deployment projections. A combination of reliance on nuclear power, a market dominated by a single player, and a focus on largescale projects (which often present complex planning issues) means that progress has been slow in Europe’s second largest economy. France is now looking at various options to try and kickstart its sluggish decarbonisation process, including encouraging the signature of more PPAs and looking to increase direct investment via EDF.
Another country that lags behind is showing more promise. Poland has seen a startling increase from almost nothing in 2018 to nearly 5% of production this summer. Despite missing its renewable targets last year, it’s a sign that Europe’s major coal-driven economy is beginning to make headway in terms of decarbonising its economy.
As detailed by Ember, there’s still a long way to go: 10% is still a small fraction of production across Europe. As we’ve seen in recent months, a combination of high carbon and power prices have meant that coal and gas fired generation are still an important part of the European power mix. Continued, sustained investment in solar PV and other renewables should mean that the percentage of production continues to rise; but to truly phase out fossil fuels, more commitment will be needed. Whether its storage solutions, innovative demand side technologies or increasing certification requirements for industry, a package of measures will be necessary.
Watch this space for some more insights on the new technologies and policies that will be needed to help the EU reach its targets.
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