How can Europe reach its solar potential? Andreas Wade, Global Sustainability Director at First Solar, discusses key opportunities for Europe to become a global solar leader


 

 

It is an exciting time for the European solar industry - with new technologies, markets, and business opportunities emerging every day, it is crucial that solar companies stay on the cutting-edge of the sector. One of the companies leading the solar boom in Europe and beyond is First Solar. As one of the sponsors of our SolarPower Summit on 14-15 March in Brussels, First Solar is on the frontlines forging new opportunities for solar in Europe. We sat down with Andreas Wade, Global Sustainability Director at First Solar, to discuss the opportunities for Europe to claim its top spot as a global leader in solar and clean energy.

 

SPE: As a leading module manufacturer, why are Ecodesign and Ecolabel of importance for you?

AW: We place sustainability at the heart of everything we do, which directly translates into being able to power our customers' success with some of the most eco-efficient photovoltaic modules available on the market today. 

Countries like France have already paved the way towards lower carbon solar, but more needs to be done to ensure a level playing field for the assessment of the environmental performance of PV products and manufacturers. This is particularly important at a time when increasing numbers of PV manufacturers are going private, making it a challenge to accurately evaluate the performance, quality, and reliability of their product.

Ecodesign and Ecolabeling addresses this challenge and helps deliver transparency to asset owners, and even to lenders who are beginning to tie the bankability of a project to its sustainability performance as well as its environmental and social governance.

 

SPE: The European Parliament has recently voted to support a 35% RES target - what steps can the EU take to create a stable market and boost the solar sector in order to meet this target? 

AW: The vote was a step in the right direction, but legislation that enables this goal must follow.

For instance, there needs to be an appropriate response to the so-called 'ambition gap' - a reference to those member states whose national renewable energy programs simply do not sufficiently contribute to the EU 2030 target - and the 'delivery gap' which refers to shortfalls in national contributions.

One obvious way of tackling the issue is by putting in place mechanisms that lift the administrative burden from direct commercial and industrial Power Purchase Agreements, allowing the EU Member States to tap into the sheer potential of private sector investment to address both gaps.

Another critical priority must be the design of the European electricity market. Existing national monopolistic structures will only hinder efforts to make renewable energy more competitive and to facilitate a truly unified electricity market with cross-border cooperation.   

And finally, there needs to be universal recognition of the fact that renewables, and solar in particular, offer Europe the ultimate hedge against fuel price volatility and potential future carbon taxation while delivering on the promise of energy security.

 

SPE: First Solar has been involved before in the corporate sourcing of solar energy through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) - how are these type of agreements beneficial for the EU and the solar industry?

AW:  Corporate Renewable programs are a real win-win for Europe - if structured well, they can leverage private sector funding to help sustainably and cost-effectively achieve national renewable energy targets, while increasing utility revenues and protecting other ratepayers. From an industry perspective, Corporate Renewables present a multi-Gigawatt opportunity as companies seek to future-proof their business from the impact of climate change and energy cost volatility.

Let's look at the data - there are an estimated 2GW of corporate renewables in Europe, versus 10+GW in the US. The gap is not for want of demand - currently 123 countries companies, most of them household names - have already subscribed to the RE100 initiative, sealing their commitment to fully power their businesses using renewables. Together these companies represent enough energy demand to power Poland!

What needs to be clear is that these corporate power buyers are not looking for subsidies, but are rather seeking regulatory changes that enable a transparent and fair energy market, which in turn allows them to either purchase or generate clean energy competitively.

Corporate Renewables are an essential means towards achieving national renewable energy targets by harnessing private sector investment and must be recognised as such.

To learn more about these trends impacting the European solar industry, join us and First Solar at the SolarPower Summit on 14-15 March in Brussels to discuss new technology, business models, policy implications and more.

To learn more about the event and to register: www.solarpowersummit.org