Speak Up Energy

Technology breakthroughs and falling solar panel prices point to a bright future for
Europe’s photovoltaic (PV) sector. But the industry still faces a number of obstacles, including public misconceptions and hesitant investors, says Ernesto Macias Galán, vice president of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA).

Harvesting the sun

“Recent reports indicate that oil could reach $200 a barrel by the end of the year. So the scenario is clear: we need to be in favour of renewable sources. And PV works,” Macias told.Markets appear to agree. Stock values of global solar firms have been rising steadily, according to a 16 May report by the Financial Times. And shortages in supplies of polysilicon, the raw material used for making traditional PV panels, are easing.

“This mini-crisis that hit the industry a few years ago will probably remain for one more year, but after more raw material becomes available on the market it will be resolved,” Macias said.”Companies will continue to produce the raw materials needed, as many are doing in China, Japan and the US. On the other hand the use of polysilicon is going down. We are increasing efficiency in the cells,” he added. A recent nanotechnology breakthrough that promises to increase the efficiency of PV panels has also given the sector a boost in terms of longer-term development.

Bigger is better?

However, despite these positive signals for the industry, a number of hurdles remain. Several EU member states, notably Spain and Germany, provide significant financial support to solar and other renewables in the form of feed-in tariffs. These guarantee producers of electricity from renewable sources a buy-back price per kilowatt hour that is higher than the market price, making investments in more expensive renewables worthwhile. But the feed-in tariff policy has produced markedly different results in Spain and Germany. While solar panels can be seen on rooftops across Germany, which has the highest level of installed solar capacity in the world and a growing culture of micro-generation or ‘home-made’ electricity production,
Spain’s solar landscape is dominated by large installations. “In Spain, some of the utilities are taking advantage of the [feed-in tariffs] and they are becoming producers,” explains Macias.But Macias doubts whether the large fields of solar panels that dot the Spanish landscape represents a real shift in terms of how renewables are perceived. “In general terms [the utilities] are not supporting this because many of them do not think PV is a source of energy for the future,” he said.

From EurActiv

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