#MakeSolarEU: Solarge's role in reshoring solar manufacturing to Europe

by Thérèse O Donoghue - 26 June 2024
The European Union has set a goal of at least 30 GW of European solar manufacturing, at each stage of the value chain, by 2030. Right now, however, European solar manufacturers are facing a crisis. Market forces are driving down the components prices, making it difficult for Europe’s solar industry to sell their products. Some parts of the value chain are particularly impacted, like wafers and cells, as well as the final product, i.e. the solar modules itself are hit hard.

SolarPower Europe is continuing its urgent calls to support these critical links in the solar-led energy transition.

In the #MakeSolarEU blog series, we will showcase the reality and potential of EU solar manufacturing, by interviewing some of Europe’s most important, and innovative manufacturing companies.


In an interview with Solarge’s Chief Technology Officer, Gerard de Leede, we talked about the state-of-play of the European solar manufacturing landscape.

1. What does Solarge build, where do you build it, and when was your factory inaugurated?

Last May 2023, Solarge's brand new production line was officially inaugurated by European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, and Dutch Minister Rob Jetten in Weert, the Netherlands. Currently, we are producing 50-75 kw per day in one shift. We are operating at an annual production of 20 MW, but we want to grow as fast as possible; by the end of 2024, we are aiming to ramp up our capacity to 40 MW annually. 

Our product is special because it is a lightweight circular PFAS-free module (i.e. free of harmful, industrial chemicals); the module also does not contain solar glass or aluminium. It is polymer- based, so we are mainly targeting the lightweight rooftop market.

Photo: European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, Dutch Minister Rob Jetten, and SolarPower Europe CEO Walburga Hemetsberger (from L-R), attending the opening of Solarge's new production line in Weert, the Netherlands.


© European Union 2023 (download here)

2. How many jobs does your factory create?

Currently, we employ 45 people, about 20 are operator staff in the factory, and 25 work in the office. 


We intend to grow our activities through license deals. Recently, we reached  a license with the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria (InfraCorp), a government-backed initiative with a US$15 billion investment focus on infrastructure development, and the African Green Infrastructure Investment Bank (AfGIIB).


In the future, we will close more deals like this.

Photo: Solarge worker in Solarge's production line in Weert, the Netherlands © Solarge

3. Why is it so important to build up EU solar manufacturing?

For me, the answer is obvious; you cannot rely on a single country to supply us with important products. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent energy crisis, we have witnessed the importance of becoming energy independent on a single country like Russia.

For our solar supply chain, we are much too dependent on China, and that makes the EU extremely vulnerable, as solar energy is the cheapest energy source in almost all EU countries.

4. What’s the company’s biggest opportunity and challenge?

Our biggest opportunity is the potential with our product. We have proven the production process, and now we have our roadmap in place to build up to a 1 GW capacity.


Our biggest threat would be new market circumstances. Already, we have invested €25 million by 2025 to get to where we are, and scale-up further. However, the current oversupply of Chinese panels on the market could create an unfair competition and place us at a disadvantage.

Photo: Solarge solar panels © Solarge

5. Does the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) inspire you, or concern you?

It's definitely very attractive. The scheme is much more attractive because it has an operational expenses scheme, and the sales prices are more attractive and realistic. Therefore, at Solarge we are also exploring opportunities for production in the US.

The ideal situation would be to replicate the Inflation Reduction Act in Europe.

6. What is your long-term vision and plan for 2025 and beyond?

Our long-term plan is to sell more licences around the world.


Over the next three years, our aim is to grow to an equal cost-level, just like glass-based solar modules made in China. 


Where we are located now, we can only grow to 200-300 MW maximum due to limitations from the factory floor and the grid. 

Photo: Solarge's testing laboratory in Weert, the Netherlands © Solarge

7. Can Europe build 30 GW of solar equipment, every year, by 2030?

If you asked the question six months ago, I would have said yes. Now, I feel uncertain.

8. What do we need from politicians to make it happen?

We need a level playing field with China. I think the investment climate is really quite difficult at the moment for EU solar manufacturers.


For example, we are planning on building a GW factory; with our lightweight solar modules, we are in a different market compared to the standard modules market. The potential is huge. In the Netherlands, we estimate that light-roofed buildings constitute 40% of the building market. However, Chinese modules are so cheap that some companies choose to put these heavier modules on their roof. This leaves a part of the roof space uncovered with solar modules, resulting in less solar energy generation. That’s our biggest competition today. 

Of course, we can lower our price. That's the advantage of this innovative product. However, we can't go faster than our volume growth. 


We are set to receive €20 million over 6-7 years as part of a €312M grant, plus a €100M loan that the Dutch Government has awarded under its National Growth Fund. This grant is being offered to the SolarNL project we are part of. The SolarNL programme represents a collaborative effort between industry and research institutes, focusing on developing and large-scale production of circular integrated high-efficiency solar cells and panels within Dutch borders.


Presently, there are quite a few constraints to releasing the money. Part of it will be supplied under the EU’s Temporary Crisis and Transition Framework (TCTF).


But, these grants are capex-based, not opex-based, such as the IRA. To really support EU solar manufacturing ambitions, we need to adjust the EU State Aid rules to support the opex - the running costs of solar factories.

Header image: Gerard de Leede, Chief Technology Officer of Solarge © Solarge

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