2022 was a landmark year for solar energy as new records were set for installations, investments, and capacity additions. The solar industry has been growing rapidly over the past few years, and 2022 proved to be a pivotal year in its evolution.
As the world installed its first Terawatt of solar capacity, Europe reached several key solar milestones. This was primarily driven by the EU’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, with solar energy playing a crucial role in this transition. One of the most notable milestones was the amount of solar power generated, which reached an all-time high owing to increased investment in solar infrastructure, favourable government policies, and advancements in solar technology.
According to SolarPower Europe, the amount of new solar PV capacity installed rose from 28.1 GW in 2021 to 41.4 GW of solar in 2022. That represents an impressive 47% increase and enough power to supply 12.4 million homes annually.
This increase in solar capacity means that Europe’s total solar capacity has increased by 25%, moving from 167.5 GW in 2021 to 208.9 GW in 2022. However, as impressive as this is, the continent will have to more than double its production if it is to reach its goal of having installed a total of 750 GWDC by 2030. This means increasing output from the 26 GW produced in 2021 to 70 GW in the decade’s second half. Achieving this will be no mean feat.
Countries like Germany are leading the charge, having installed 7.9 GW in 2022, more than any other EU nation. Moreover, they aim to quadruple their current solar capacity to 215 GW by 2030. Individually, SolarPower Europe estimates that 21 member states of the EU will have achieved the 2030 solar goals by 2025, and the remaining six will do so by 2027. As it stands, ten member countries are adding at least 1 GW of solar capacity per year.
Rooftop Solar’s Contribution
Like previous years, rooftop solar remained the largest source of solar installations, accounting for 66% of Europe’s total solar capacity. The segment added 25 GW of new solar capacity in 2022, up from 17 GW the previous year.
Helping to sustain the growth of this segment is the European solar rooftops initiative. Its goal is to gradually introduce a mandate requiring rooftop solar installation across different types of buildings, beginning with public and commercial structures. Should the initiative catch on, all public and commercial buildings must install solar panels by 2027. This has already started in the German state of Baden-Württemberg.
Solar has been a boon for European economies, with the countries of Germany, Spain, Poland, and the Netherlands boasting the most jobs in the region. According to SolarPower Europe, the EU’s solar industry employed 466,000 people in 2021, a 30% increase over the 358,000 employed in 2020.
SolarPower’s 2022 report projected that this growth would continue into 2022, rising to 530,000 jobs. Most of the EU’s solar jobs (79%) were in installation, while 44,000 were in solar PV manufacturing, a highly valuable and strategic sector. Additionally, 40,000 jobs were in operations and maintenance. Solar skills are expected to remain immensely employable in the coming years as Europe aims to achieve its climate goals and bolster energy security.
Effect of Russia – Ukraine Conflict on Solar in Europe
In 2021, 40% of the EU’s natural gas came from Russia. That figure dropped to 17% by August 2022. The Russia – Ukraine conflict has caused an increase in the price of oil and natural gas, causing Europe to turn more towards renewables to cover supply deficits. A surging renewables industry has helped soften the impact of the EU’s energy crisis as the bloc attempts to shake off its reliance on Russian gas.
According to think tanks E3G and Ember, solar and wind electricity production saved the EU from importing extra costly gas worth €11 billion. From March to September last year, a quarter of the EU’s electricity was sourced from wind and solar, a record high.
Nineteen member countries broke wind and solar records, including Spain (35%), Italy (20%), Poland (17%), and France (14%). The war has quickened renewable projects already in the pipeline and further plans for renewable energy sources like solar.
How Europe plans to Increase its Solar Capacity
SolarPower Europe’s report highlights five main areas instrumental to achieving the “EU solar energy strategy” goals. They are:
- Increasing the number of technicians qualified for solar installations. Helping achieve this is the EU’s large-scale skills partnership initiative, which enables people and businesses to gain more skills relevant to a green and digital economy.
- Ensuring regulatory stability so that state interventions do not hamper solar’s momentum
- Improving the grid on both the transmission and distribution level to reduce grid connection issues
- Streamlining administrative procedures such as spatial planning and permitting, allowing for more solar power plants to be built in harmony with the environment and people
- The creation of a robust domestic industry to manufacture solar PV products and reduce dependency on any one manufacturer