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POLITICO: The use of solar energy in the EU breaks all records

14-8-2023 |

Explosive growth in solar power means most EU countries will hit their 2030 renewable energy targets ahead of time, new data shows, fuelling optimism on efforts to bring down global emissions.

The bloc added 41 gigawatts of new solar capacity in 2022 — a 40 percent increase on 2021. That's expected to rise to over 50 GW this year.

Some 23 countries are slated to reach their solar installation targets by 2027, according to data from the SolarPower Europe lobby group based on the latest available national targets.

That mirrors a global trend, and means millions more tons of greenhouse gas emissions are being saved each year than predicted.

“[Solar] development has been spectacular,” said Javier Esparrago, an energy expert at the European Environment Agency, arguing that the fast rollout ultimately “all boils down to [the] costs” of solar power per kilowatt-hour plummeting 90 percent in the past decade.

In part, the explosive growth is down to plummeting prices for solar panels being mass-produced in China. The war in Ukraine also created a major incentive for countries to push ahead with solar installations as a way to lower their dependency on Russian energy.

Rapid solar growth has blindsided politicians and analysts — and could mean good news for global climate efforts.

In June, the International Energy Agency was forced to upwardly revise its renewable energy deployment forecasts for the EU by 38 percent, most of which was driven by a rise in residential and commercial solar installations.

“To be honest, we've never been very good … our most optimistic predictions have nearly always undershot the market,” said Jenny Chase, a solar analyst at BloombergNEF who has closely followed the sector for almost two decades.

That’s down to difficulties in predicting the cost and efficiency improvements in Chinese manufacturing of solar panels each year, Chase said, and using data that quickly goes out of date. It's also tricky to understand when solar rollout will eventually plateau.

But prediction errors could also mean climate change efforts are going better than expected worldwide — especially as major economies join the race to install more solar.