Solar Power Europe Summit 2023 brought together European Union decision-makers; MEP’s, EU regulators, Ministers of different countries, representatives of different solar energy associations, energy journalists and industry representatives with the theme ”Race is on”.
The two-day full packed conference included a lot of panel discussions and networking within a sunny atmosphere despite the fact that it was either snowing or raining in Brussels. As this was my first experience with the broader solar community I was impressed by the social and positive atmosphere. Probably also due to the positive vibe in the entire industry at the moment.
Energy is all about politics
The first speaker Kadri Simson, EU Energy Commissioner, delivered a powerful speech addressing the industry with high targets set for solar energy for the future. The European Union backs up the renewables industry heavily with its RePowerEU and Green Deal plans. There was 41GW of solar energy installed in Europe in 2022. The target for 2023 is 60GW which is the minimum needed to tackle the energy crisis according to IEA (International Energy Agency). At the moment it looks like that even 71GW would be realistic. And it does not stop there. Rather than the EU target is to have 1TW by 2030 by claiming that solar will be the backbone of Europe’s energy system. As a comparison, Solnet's biggest solar plant this far is 4MW. The EU will also be publishing its new Net Zero Industry Act as part of the Green Deal Industry Plan soon (possibly still during March 2023) including targets and means for European manufacturing.
As we all know, the terrible war started by Russia changed things inevitably one year ago. ”There is a new sense of urgency. We need to make our energy system more resilient. Regulatory stability is essential. We need low-cost renewables and we have to ramp up solar manufacturing around Europe. We want to have 13GW manufacturing capacity in Europe by 2050”, Kadri Simson said.
So a lot needs to be done in terms of getting more solar energy manufactured in Europe. This requires raw materials, supply chains, more workers, you name it. More of everything which we do not currently have yet.
Even if a lot has been done already during 2022 also. According to IEA, European Union has decreased its dependence on Russian oil and gas by -38 %, the share of Russia in EU gas demand has gone down by -40%, solar and wind additions went up by +41%, heat pump sales by +40%, electric car sales +15% and EU CO2 emissions went down by -2.5%.
Energy is all about politics but solar energy is all about the business case also. It offers savings and security to the Europeans in times of energy crisis and beyond. One understands its popularity very well when we consider its return on investment (from +10 to 15 %), sustainability angle (visible CO2 reduction), and self-sufficiency (risk management and stabilizing costs).
”Solar is the Queen of energy markets”
Fatih Birol, Executive Director, IEA who was recently interviewed by the Financial Times gave a great speech. As the event was held on 8th and 9th March and as 8th March is International Women’s Day he commented: "I used to say solar was the King - but I think it deserves a promotion. It has performed so well in the last three years, and as today is 8th March I will now say that solar is the Queen of energy markets."
He told about several examples that the European Union and member states had done in order to tackle the energy crisis such as bringing the temperature down by two degrees and getting a plan done in only one week to reduce dependence of Russian energy. In the Financial Times interview, Fatih Birol also estimated that solar power will take over other energy forms by 2027. Read more
There were also several examples from all over Europe from member states of how solar has been deployed in their countries. Some of them already had a solar boom ten years ago but it is now starting to get off again. To the question of why solar was deployed so fast in Poland, Anna Moskwa, Minister of Climate and Environment replied: ”Our history and our mentality; Our history because we have challenging neighbors and it has made us think that we want to have energy independence. Solar is 100 % about independence, self-sufficiency, something that can't be taken away”.
This is a sprint and a marathon
Due to dependence on Russian energy, Europe starts its race from behind so there are several short-term targets to reach in order to reach the long-term targets.
As 2023 is the Year of Skills in the European Union we need to address the factors relating to acquiring a skilled workforce. There were 0.5 million solar workers in 2022 and by 2030 the need and the EU target is over 1 million. Therefore we need more education and training in solar energy to fulfill future needs. Luckily this is already on the EU's agenda for this year. We hope that we see support for new training programs soon as there is not enough training in the solar sector both for installers and higher education.
To get to hear the voice of the future it was great to also have some students present and hear their opinions on how to recruit more younger people. Emma Wiesner, one of the youngest MEP’s, the European Green Party raised also the issue of recruitment in her speaking turn. "I'm an Engineer, but you don't have to be an Engineer to work in the clean-tech industry. To tackle climate change, we need to recruit more broadly and have access to 100 % of the potential workforce... After all, solar is a sexy industry”, she stated.
Solar supports Ukraine
A very powerful presentation was held by the #solarsupportsukraine campaign in order to combat energy poverty and help to rebuild Ukraine. Yuliana Onischuk, CEO of Energy Act for Ukraine Foundation said:” We are trying to rebuild schools and hospitals in the middle of a war to be able to function as normally as possible and these will be equipped with solar power in order not to be reliant on the grid.”
#solarsupportsukraine initiative was started by the German Solar Association BSW and it is aiming to raise 300 000 euros. Yuliana said that they are a warning example of what can happen with too much reliance on the grid and not being energy independent. With the help of funds raised by #solarsupportsukraine we can all also help the local economy in Ukraine by employing local installers.
All in all, this was a very inspiring, informative, and interesting summit to attend and I am so excited after starting to work in this sunny solar industry with so much potential. After the two days race of the Solar Power Europe Summit, I have to say that I am not all exhausted yet, rather that I am really looking forward to this marathon.