Solar power provided a record 12% of the EU’s electricity between May and August this year, according to a report published in September by environmental organisation Ember.
The boost to power supply was more than welcome during a summer in which the price of natural gas rocketed and drought conditions across many parts of Europe limited hydroelectric power, as well as some thermal generation, owing to a lack of cooling water.
From May to August, solar provided more electricity than either wind or hydro, Ember reports.
Continued capacity additions and the sunny weather saw records broken across 18 of the EU’s 27 member states, with the most rapid yearly increase coming in Poland.
Records were by no means confined to Europe’s Mediterranean states. The Netherlands had the highest share of electricity generated from solar in the period at 23%, followed by Germany 19%, and Spain 17%.
Overall, solar generation across the EU was 28% higher this summer year on year.
Solar’s contribution to electricity generation will always be higher in the sunny summer months, but even on an annual basis the technology is demonstrating its growing contribution to Europe’s energy security and transition.
Installed solar capacity rose in the EU from 104 GW in 2018 to 162 GW in 2021, when 23 GW was added. Across Europe as a whole, solar generated 195.6 TWh last year, 11.6% more than the previous year, equating to 4.9% of gross electricity supply, according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, 2022. This is just over four times higher than in 2011.
The discrepancy between the summer time and annual contributions to electricity supply highlights solar’s seasonality. However, the complimentary boost it provides counter-seasonally to hydro and wind in the hotter months of the year underlines the system strength of a broad range of renewable energy technologies with different generation profiles.
Globally, solar PV is the fastest growing power technology of any kind. Among renewables, solar accounted for 56% of the over 300 GW renewables installed last year, according to SolarPower Europe’s Global Market Outlook for Solar Power.
In April, solar PV deployment worldwide hit the 1 terawatt (TW) mark. By the end of 2025, the association predicts there will be more than 2 TW capacity.
In Europe, the association expects 25 of the EU’s 27 members to install more solar this year than in 2021.
Over the period 2022-2026, the EU’s solar capacity is expected to grow rapidly, despite sustained high component prices, short-term supply bottlenecks and logistical issues.
Germany’s solar capacity is forecast to more than double to almost 133 GW, while Spain and the Netherlands will see compound annual growth of 21%, bringing total capacity to 48 GW and 36 GW respectively. Poland is expected to have the fastest growth rate at an annual 31%, increasing its capacity by 21.5 GW over the next four years to 29.2 GW.
The technology’s popularity reflects its robust cost competitiveness. Despite headwinds, utility-scale solar power saw a 3% reduction in costs in 2021, compared with 2020, according to SolarPower Europe.
The European Commission’s REPowerEU plan calls for 420 GW of solar power by 2030, which, if realised, implies power generation of just over 500 TWh, equivalent to more than 12% of current EU electricity generation.
SolarPower Europe says even this could be exceeded by some margin.