The report reviews global research, development, industry and policy efforts in photovoltaics throughout 2007 and sets out some recommendations.
The JRC's Strategic Energy Technology Information System, which compiled the report, provides independent analyses of energy technologies to European decision-makers. The Photovoltaics report examined data from institutions such as the International Energy Agencies (IEA), the European Statistical Office, industrial and commercial organisations as well as research teams throughout Europe.
'Photovoltaics' refers to the semiconductor devices we know as solar cells. These cells work together in panels which then generate electricity. Conventional solar cells rely on silicon-based technology, which means that fluctuations in the cost of this material have a significant impact on mass production. A recent technological advance has been the development of 'thin film technologies', which have increased the commercial viability of solar cells.
The status report indicates that solar photovoltaic production grew by an average of 40% annually since 2003, peaking at 60% growth in 2007. Germany was a clear leader in the European market with a EUR 5.7 billion turnover (more than 100,000 houses installed solar panels). Half of the world's photovoltaic-based electricity production, which totals 10 Billion KWh, comes from the EU.
Solar energy still accounts for only 0.2% of total electricity consumption in Europe, providing a much-needed boost to supplies during peak use times (particularly of importance during heat waves, when cooling becomes an issue for nuclear power plants). The net effect is an estimated saving of 4 million tonnes of CO2. Incentive schemes such as subsidies, together with rapid technical advances, have led to a reduction in the cost of using this important renewable energy source. Further incentive programmes are strongly encouraged by the assessment.
The report demonstrates that the European photovoltaic industry has to continue its impressive growth in the coming years in order to maintain its market position. This will only be possible, the report cautions, 'if new solar cell and module design concepts can be realised, as with current technology the demand for materials like silver would exceed the available resources within the next 30 years. Research to avoid such kinds of problems is underway and it can be expected that such bottle-necks will be avoided.'
Photovoltaic research in Europe is funded by 27 national programmes as well as the Directorate Generals (DG) for Research (RTD) and for Energy and Transport (TREN). During the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6, which ran from 2002 to 2006), EUR 810 million was spent on sustainable energy systems, with EUR 107.5 million of this dedicated to photovoltaics research. During FP6 the Photovoltaics Technology Platform was established.
During the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which runs from 2007 to 2013, the EC expects to see research deliver technological improvements and economies of scale that will lead to a 'reduced material consumption, higher efficiencies and improved manufacturing processes, based on environmentally sound processes and cycles'.
Europe-wide collaborations represent a small part of the overall budget for photovoltaics research in Europe, but they play a key part in creating a European Photovoltaics Research Area, according to the report.
The current analysis was conducted in the context of the EU's Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan, a primary goal of which is to accelerate innovation in cutting-edge, low-carbon technologies. Photovoltaic technology is crucial to the plan's objectives, and SET's 'Solar Europe Initiative' focuses on large-scale demonstration and concentrated solar power.
The report's analysis of European policies and current investments leads the authors to conclude that more than 15TWh of electricity will be generated in 2010. This equates to 0.5% of the EU 27 total net production of electricity in 2006 or the same as Slovenia's total electricity consumption.
'The new figures imply that the EU, with roughly 18.5% of the total worldwide electricity consumption, will have an investment need of almost EUR 59.2 billion per year,' according to the report.