Europe’s PV Potential

At the current Photovoltaic (PV) Symposium in Bad Staffelstein the main focus is on the worldwide information exchange about the state of the technology - both from the national and international market development perspectives. Speakers with technical as well as economic backgrounds are presenting the newest results of their work. In a year when we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of this symposium, the discussion on future strategies on how to increase the solar energy supply is a central theme - highlighted in one of the biggest specialised exhibition and poster exhibits ever.

I was delighted to give a speech during one of the sessions not only because it was an opportunity to give a retrospective of the past 25 years but much more to draw attention to the upcoming years when PV solar electricity will become one of the mainstream electricity sources not only in Europe but worldwide. The next 10 years and beyond 2020 until 2050 I believe will prove to be the truly exciting years for PV. In my capacity as Director of EREC (European Renewable Energy Council), the European umbrella organization for all renewable technologies, I highlighted the importance of energy efficient technologies like LED and OLED for a world using much less energy with the same quality of life.

With the 20-20-20 Directive, the European Union (EU) set ambitious targets to combat global warming and secure sustainable energy production. The fact that the PV technology can contribute significantly to these ambitious goals, has already been shown in the study “SET for 2020” by EPIA (European Photovoltaic Industry Association) and A.T. Kearny last summer: with electricity from PV systems expected to meet 12% of Europe’s electricity demands by 2020 in the Paradigm Shift scenario. This corresponds to 390 GWp (gigawatts peak) cumulative installation of PV. To meet this aggressive goal politicians and regulators need to work with the European energy industry and consumers to create more favourable conditions like the development of smart grids, smart meters and the control of the electricity demand of all customers (demand side management), as well as technologies for short-term electricity storage.

When I look at the period after 2020 the perspective for PV becomes even more promising. Based on the assumption that in 2050 a total of 80% of end energy comes from renewable sources and even in extrapolating the most moderate scenario into the following years a share of electricity produced by PV is about 27% worldwide. This represents a cumulative installed capacity of 8,000 GW (gigawatts) or 11,200 TW / h per year.

Compared to fossil fuels, like oil, coal, gas or uranium used for nuclear energy, renewable energies have two major advantages: they are virtually inexhaustible and their costs can be reduced over time due to continuous technology developments. How long the supply of reasonable-cost fossil and uranium fuels will be available is difficult to predict. However, when we look at the potential costs to deal with climate change impacts then each dollar invested in renewable energy will pay off multiple times in the future.

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