EU sets solar record

Portugal improving very quickly

Solar in Portugal: Alcoutim photovoltaic plant, Algarve
Alcoutim photovoltaic plant, Algarve

Público reported last week that Portugal was one of 18 European countries that broke records for generating electricity from solar sources this summer. Production growth avoided gas imports worth an estimated 29 billion euros, reveals a report by the think tank Ember

This summer, the European Union was able to generate 12% of all its electricity from solar sources. This record production helped us to avoid gas imports worth an estimated 29 billion euros, reveals a report by the think tank Ember. At a time when Brussels is scrambling to manage the gas crisis, the news could not be more welcome.

“Every Terawatt-hour (TWh) of solar electricity has helped to reduce our gas consumption, saving billions of euros for European citizens. The priority now must be to accelerate the deployment of solar energy to help protect Europe from future shocks to fossil fuel prices,” according to Paweł Czyżak, who produced the study in partnership with Sarah Brown.

Portugal was one of the 18 countries that broke production records, having risen by more than three percentage points in an upward curve of electricity generation from solar sources (see chart). “We could say that Portugal is among the best, with the solar share growing 3.3 percentage points compared to last year – from 6% to 9.3%, thanks to the 1.5 Gigawatts (GW) of capacity added in 2021”, says the senior analyst at Ember.

Alcoutim

Portuguese growth corresponds, in Paweł Czyżak’s assessment, to a beautiful exponential curve. “This means that Portugal is on the right path to improve its share of solar energy very quickly. It is good news to reach the new 80% share of clean energy by 2026,” he believes.

The study analyzes monthly electricity generation data between May and August 2022, that is, during the months considered most productive when it comes to solar energy. This Ember document, released last Thursday, reveals that the European Union produced 99.4 TWh​ of electricity from solar energy this summer. This result is well above the 77.7 TWh obtained in the same period in 2021.

The case of Poland and the Netherlands

The list of 18 record-breaking countries is led by the Netherlands (22.7%), Germany (19.3%), Spain (16.7%), Greece (15.3%) and Italy (15%). The biggest rise in solar generation since 2018 was in Poland – a country that, despite being very dependent on coal, has increased solar generation by 26 times. Warsaw’s strength, however, may only be short-lived sunshine: while European Union countries such as Germany or the Netherlands are making a strong bet on renewable sources, the Polish government seems to be putting the brakes on, evaluates Paweł Czyżak.

“Poland is an extremely interesting case because of the unprecedented boom in residential photovoltaics in response to high prices for coal-fired electricity. On the other hand, the government is now doing everything it can to slow renewable energy [through new rules]. Unfortunately, due to unfavourable policies, Poland is likely to lose its role as a solar leader in the coming years”, says Paweł Czyżak to PÚBLICO.

In addition to the Polish case, the Netherlands also surprised the authors of the report. Although this country was already at the top of the list in 2021, Paweł Czyżak considers it interesting that it is a less privileged territory in terms of sun exposure to give the cards in terms of electricity generation.

“Anyone would think that the weather conditions in the Netherlands are not favourable for solar energy, but that is clearly not the case. So it makes a great case study for Northern European countries that were hesitant to expand solar power,” he comments.

Balm in times of crisis

This European record for solar production occurs at the same time as the vertiginous rise in fossil gas prices. The contract for August of the main European gas market, the TTF (Title Transfer Facility), was negotiated at an all-time high of 313 euros per Megawatt-hour (MWh) on the 29th. And, from May to August, the period analyzed by Ember, presented an average value of 148 euros per MWh. The average cost in the same period of 2021 was 38 euros per MWh.

Would this admirable European growth in solar energy have been possible without an energy crisis? Paweł Czyżak thinks so. “Perhaps surprisingly, the geopolitical scenario has had a limited impact on solar growth. It is in fact the opposite: it was solar energy that helped to mitigate the crisis caused by the Russian invasion, gas shortages, nuclear issues and low hydroelectric [production] due to droughts”, says the Ember analyst. “Without solar energy, we would probably be facing blackouts”, he concludes.

Ember’s analysis further concludes that the growth of solar energy is accelerating. The year-on-year increase of 22 TWh during the summer of 2022 is much higher than in 2021 (+8 TWh), 2020 (+10 TWh) and 2019 (+2 TWh). “The sheer scale of the expansion of solar energy in Europe was what made my eyes widen the most, as well as the fact that growth is accelerating: we see more and more solar generation every year”, enthuses Paweł Czyżak

While the pace of growth is accelerating, it may still not be enough to reach the European targets by 2030. For installed capacity and solar generation to match Brussels’ ambition, the deployment rate must continue to increase.

“The growth we are seeing and the short-term forecasts for solar energy are extremely promising. They give a lot of hope that we can actually achieve the goals that Europe is aiming for in programs like REPowerEU. On that note, the industry ( Solar Power Europe ) is certain that we can even surpass the number of 600 GW of solar installed capacity in 2030, which is again very promising, especially if we combine it with strong wind growth. But we really need a faster pace to get to a clean EU energy system in the early 2030s”, predicts the Ember analyst.

Thanks to PeterA for the link

In October last year, Renewables Now reported that Portuguese officials had inaugurated the 219-MW Riccardo Totta solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in the municipality of Alcoutim, north-eastern Algarve region.

The plant is said to be the largest operational solar park in Portugal, and one of the largest unsubsidised plants in Europe.

The investment in the Riccardo Totta project totalled €170 million (USD 196.6m). The project was developed by WElink Energy/Solara4 in partnership with China Triumph International Engineering Co Ltd (CTIEC).

The plant occupies a non-continuous area of 320 hectares (790.7 acres). It consists of 661,500 panels, which will produce about 382 GWh of solar energy and meet the consumption needs of some 200,000 homes.

The plant’s energising process will be completed by month’s end, according to WElink’s Project Director for the Iberian Peninsula, Hugo Paz.

Riccardo Totta is the second largest unsubsidised PV project that WElink and CTIEC developed in Portugal, after completing the 46-MW Ourika solar power facility in 2018.

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4 thoughts on “EU sets solar record”

  1. Solar power is a great idea even in the UK as even on cloudy days the panels still generate some power. The downside is the loss of farmland that is needed for growing food. I know that the panels are high enough for sheep etc to graze the land but land covered in photovoltaic panels cannot easily be used for growing crops.

    A real dilemma as we don’t want areas of natural beauty like moors etc covered with them.

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