For the first time, solar panels generated a tenth of electricity in the EU-27 during their peak months of June and July this year, but annual growth in solar output needs to double to meet the European Union’s 2030 emissions targets.
A new analysis by energy think tank Ember shows new records were set in eight EU countries, while Hungary has quadrupled its solar share since 2018. However, solar panels still generated less electricity than Europe’s coal power plants.
The solar market is ready to deliver the needed shift from fossil fuels to renewables because the price of generating electricity in solar panels is 50% lower than in fossil power plants, according to Ember.
The global average levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for utility-scale solar photovoltaic has decreased almost seven times in the ten years through 2020, to USD 57/MWh.
Eight EU countries set a new solar record share
Europe’s summer peaks in solar power generation that happen in June and July are getting bigger every year. Solar panels generated a record 10% of EU electricity (39 TWh) in June-July 2021, compared to 28 TWh that was registered in the same period of 2018. Growth is accelerating: the EU saw solar generation increase by 5.1 TWh between June-July 2020 and 2021, a larger year-on-year change than in 2020 (3.1 TWh) or 2019 (2.6 TWh), Ember said.
Eight EU countries set a new solar record share during the summer peak this year: Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
Netherlands and Spain have doubled solar share
Seven EU countries generated over a tenth of their electricity from solar panels in June-July 2021, with the Netherlands (17%), Germany (17%), Spain (16%), Greece (13%) and Italy (13%) leading the way.
Hungary has quadrupled its solar share since June-July 2018, while the level was doubled in the Netherlands and Spain. Estonia and Poland have gone from near-zero solar in 2018 to 10% and 5%, respectively.
For the first time, solar overtook coal power in Hungary, a milestone that had already been first reached last year in Greece and Portugal, while the Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain, Austria and Belgium all achieved it several years ago.
Hungary saw solar power increase from 3% of electricity in June-July 2018 to 12% this summer. In comparison, Hungary’s coal power fell from 17% to just 10%, Ember said.
The first signs of Europe’s solar revolution
Despite recent gains, the EU’s electricity generation from solar panels still remains lower than from coal power plants, which generated 14% of EU electricity in June-July 2021, or 58 TWh.
The EU-27 has added 14 TWh of solar generation every year on average in the last two years. However, according to the European Commission, annual growth in the next decade must double to 30 TWh in order to meet the EU’s new 2030 climate targets.
It is now half the price to generate electricity from new solar panels than existing fossil plants
According to Ember, the solar market is poised to support the growth required. It is now 50% cheaper to generate electricity from new solar panels than from existing fossil plants across major markets including Germany, the UK, Italy, France and Spain.
These are the first signs of Europe’s solar revolution in countries like Spain, the Netherlands, Hungary and even coal-heavy Poland, said Charles Moore, Europe lead, Ember.
He added there is a long way to go before solar provides more power than fossil fuels, even in the height of Europe’s summer sun.