Mission Solar 2040

SolarPower Europe President Speech

4 March 2024

On the occasion of the SolarPower Summit 2024, SolarPower Europe President, Aristotelis Chantavas delivered the opening speech: Mission Solar 2040.

Good afternoon everyone. 


It is a pleasure to be together again in Brussels for this year’s SolarPower Summit.  This year, as you will have seen, our theme is Mission Solar. Today and tomorrow, our discussions will explore the next frontiers in Europe’s energy transition. But before we launch into Mission Solar, let’s remember why we’re here.


The energy transition is for our planet. In the last 12 months, Copernicus Climate Change Service has warned: the world’s average temperature increase has already temporarily reached 1.5 degrees warming. Droughts in Spain, fires in Greece, floods in Belgium, glaciers disappearing in France. The scars of the climate crisis can be seen from space. But we have a solution right in front of us. 


The IPCC identified solar as the lowest-cost, easiest to deploy solution, with the most potential to decarbonise economies and mitigate climate change. And there is good news, 2023 saw the largest decline on record for EU power sector emissions - as renewables grew and fossils fell.


On top of decarbonisation, nature-positive solar is tackling the biodiversity challenge and helping protect water bodies from evaporation. Solar is also helping to protect our people from fossil fuel volatility. 


During the energy crisis, home solar paired with heat pumps saved European homes up to €3, 700 on their annual energy bills. Though the most difficult days of the energy crisis may be behind us, solar still offers protection to our citizens. 


Solar and heat pumps slash household energy bills by more than 70%. And this prosperity extends to the rest of the economy. The IEA says that clean technology value chains will be worth more than € 600 billion annually by 2030.


We already see that value reaching our ground crew in Europe: solar employed around 800,000 people at the end of 2023. The horizon is so bright we had to revise our forecasts upward - Europe will employ more than 1 million solar workers already by 2025.


Our Mission benefits are clear. And our Mission comes with built in targets for Europe 2030. 30 GW of manufacturing capacity. 750 GW of deployed solar.


What’s our mission status so far?


In 2023 the EU installed more than 56 GW of solar – the equivalent power needs of almost 20 million homes. The EU is now home to more than 260 GW of solar capacity.


But there is no time for complacency.  Our sector has matured, and now we face more sophisticated challenges. Though records may continue for solar, the years of 40% annual growth are behind us for now. In 2024, the double-digit growth of EU solar market is not guaranteed.


We are still far off from the 70 GW annual average needed to hit our 2030 goals. Delayed auctions, higher grid fees, inflation. All on top of permitting and grid connection issues, which still make life difficult for solar developers.


Meanwhile, our manufacturers are facing deep crisis. Bankruptcies and productions halts are piling up. The 30 GW manufacturing target seems out of reach without rapidly launching a robust industrial strategy for solar.


Now is the time to double down on our Mission and chart our course into a new era for solar. So, what do we need for lift off?


Solar has spent a decade breaking LCOE records. Today, we can be proud to be driving the cheapest and fastest-growing energy source in the world. We must closely guard the factors that impact solar economics.


Inflation is taking its toll on solar project development. We know that solar PV is capital-intensive – more than 75% of the price of a solar electron is capital costs.  Solutions exist – there are ways to lower the cost of capital for green investments. Importantly, national governments can index auctions inflation.


Beyond LCOE, this summer, we have seen an unprecedented number of negative hours, resulting in revenue uncertainty for developers. The energy system must adapt to this new world of solar abundance. That means better linking electricity demand to generation, and by making generation more flexible to respond to demand.


In the transition period, while the system adapts, the economic framework must continue to attract investment. Contracts for Difference and PPAs should therefore ensure revenue stability for developers even as negative price signals become more common.


As our generation becomes flexible, so must our grids. Globally, more than 80 million km of grids need to be built or refurbished between now and 2040, especially at distribution level. That’s more than double the annual rate in the last decades.


Last year, the European Commission came forward with the Grids Action Plan. The political attention is there. We estimate that we need 200 GW of battery storage by 2030 – but current projections will only hit 130 GW by then. We need a plan. So, let’s take it one step forward and make the Grids Action Plan a Grids and Flexibility Action Plan.


We must go beyond grid development into digitalisation and optimisation. This will mean reinforcing EU grid governance, and nationally monitoring the build-up and development of infrastructure and flexibility resources. 


And as they say, fail to prepare – prepare to fail. Right now, we need to be empowering authorities and operators to be planning and making anticipatory investments in the grid for the decades to come. The risk for under investment is much higher than the risk of over investment.


I mentioned already the difficulties currently faced by our manufacturers.


SolarPower Europe are continuing to advocate at the highest political levels for urgent action.


Right now, we need European policymakers and national governments to take responsibility in ensuring manufacturers survive, and then scale up. Then, the resilience policies of the Net-Zero Industry Act can kick in. 


The European Investment Bank will also have a role to play in supporting the pipeline of projects – as they did for 3SUN in Catania last month. 


In the long-term, the European Commission should build on the State Aid framework to allow Member States to support manufacturers’ operational expenditures. To preserve the single market and maximise the impact of EU Funding, the EU should propose a dedicated Solar Manufacturing Facility to channel finance to solar manufacturers. This robust industrial strategy must be accompanied by clear ESG market access standards, ensuring that only products respecting Europe’s sustainability principles can enter our market. 


Our Mission is only possible with a qualified crew. We will need 1 million solar workers by 2025 – they must be recruited and trained. We’re ready to work with the European Commission and all stakeholders in developing standardised training material for solar workers. This should support our call for Member States to ramp up efforts to facilitate the movement of workers, for example, through mutually recognising certification schemes.


Alongside the people and panels, we need permitting. The EU has finalised good rules in this respect, via emergency legislation and the Renewable Energy Directive. Now EU countries must make this a reality. Member States must swiftly define renewable acceleration areas and to carry out comprehensive mapping of favourable areas.


Governments can see solar as a tool to counteract land competition conflicts. Against the climate crisis, solar is already acting as a shield for farmers, biodiversity, and water bodies – let’s bring that benefit all across Europe. We’re encouraging the uptake of dual-use applications like agrisolar, floating PV, and nature-inclusive PV, through harmonised policy frameworks.


The actions I have set out are plenty. The magnitude of our challenge is not small. The climate crisis and energy transition will no doubt be some of the greatest enterprises of our lifetimes. 


But solar’s DNA is entwined with determination. It’s in our nature to look to at challenges, and see only discovery. As we face our future, we draw on the collaboration, the technological advancement, and the political drive that can take us into new worlds. From Galileo, to Bequerel, to Apollo, to the men and women in this room - the history of space and solar is built by human hands. Together, we will build our Mission Solar too. All that’s left to ask is – are you onboard?

Questions? Get in touch.

Bethany Meban
Head of Press and Policy Communications

+32 492 97 82 48

(download here) © - SolarPower Europe President, Aristotelis Chantavas at SolarPower Summit 2024  

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