Europe has long been an important region for the solar PV rollout. Since the early days of the technology’s rollout, much of the R&D, political lobbying, and community support emerged from western European countries, in particular Germany and France.
In the decades since, China and North America have both emerged as strong solar regions, both in terms of technological development, as well as manufacturing capacity and public support. At the same time, as Europe’s technical leadership in the sector has faded compared to other regions, the continent has remained at the forefront of the energy transition in many ways.
Public support for solar remains high, and after more than two decades of building out the continent’s renewables fleet, there are a number of important lessons that can help guide the solar rollout as it further accelerates in the years ahead. Interestingly enough, Europe’s current solar industry can also learn important lessons from its recent past.
One of the unique factors of Europe’s solar fleet is the age and wide variety of plant types. With many German PV plants built in the early 2000’s, they have had to stand up to more than two decades of wear and tear. At the same time, the solar fleet in Europe is now made up of multiple technology types across widely varied landscapes, not to mention the different political regimes they have been planned and installed in. Building an integrated and sustainable energy system is no easy task, and there is a swath of valuable data that should be leaned on from the first few decades of Europe’s journey to build such a system.
The unique political structure in Europe also means that many businesses operate across borders on the continent. This has resulted in many pan-European businesses needing to navigate the task of building and operating multiple solar plants across borders.
As the industry scales, it is vital that the process of setting up multiple plants to decarbonise global operations is greatly simplified. This means cutting down on the number of contractual partners, standardising interfaces and increasing the ability to analyse plant data at scale. Europe has thankfully provided an initial case study laying out some steps towards simplifying larger solar portfolios. It is crucial for Europe itself to also reference those case studies to accelerate its own rollout by simplifying and standardising more of the operational aspects of plants.
One of the common beliefs surrounding the next stage of the global PV rollout is that we will see more bigger players play a meaningful role. With net zero targets looming all over the world, and the levelized cost of energy of solar finally making it hard to ignore, large players with significant capital will soon be exploring how they can begin to source their energy in a more decentralised and sustainable manner. These large corporations, despite having presences that cover multiple countries and continents, will certainly not be looking to further complicate their decarbonisation efforts through involving different partners for each region.
As the industry shifts towards trusted O&M partners covering a company’s full portfolio of projects, operational confidence and cost certainty will become far easier to ensure. As Europe’s initial fleet of solar PV begins to show its age, being able to better collect and leverage data at a single source will become even more valuable here as well. Better identifying faults in a plant, and understanding how it effects the plant’s performance will be crucial if we expect investors and businesses to build out decentralised portfolios of solar assets.
Thankfully, despite the valuable lessons that can be taken from Europe’s early patchwork solar fleet, future scaling can be expected to go far smoother than what we have seen up until this point. There have now been the emergence of specialist service providers who innately understand all of the most important technologies in the solar PV space. This means it is simply up to investors and project developers to properly identify those partners and enter into the necessary relationships that cover the full scope of their operations.
Better understanding Europe’s long history of solar PV can greatly help with the next stage of the solar rollout around the world, as well as right at home in the EU. Simplifying the solar PV O&M space is a necessary step to enabling the further scaling of the industry, and will greatly alleviate many of the hurdles that have complicated the first two and a half decades of European solar.
Written by Timo Moeller, NovaSource.
For more news and technical articles from the global renewable industry, read the latest issue of Energy Global magazine.
The Summer 2023 issue of Energy Global hosts an array of technical articles focusing on alternative fuels, battery storage solutions, solar optimisation, and more. This issue also features a regional report on the recent developments in the European renewables market.
Read the article online at: https://www.energyglobal.com/special-reports/01082023/leveraging-europes-long-history-of-solar-to-accelerate-the-global-pv-rollout/
You might also like
Fortum will invest over SEK 700 million during 2023 – 2030 to modernise Untra, one of Sweden's oldest hydropower plants.