Renewables in Europe 2: Photovoltaics

In a recent posting we discussed the development of energy produced from biogas in the EU over the past two decades. The growth rates, as for most renewables, were impressive, showing the huge potential of that particular source of energy. Simultaneously, it became clear that not all countries progressed at the same speed. Yet the overall contribution of biogas to the energy mix is still quite small.

Similar statements can be made about photovoltaics. At the beginning of the 1990s it was virtually non-existing. But soon things started changing.

Fig. 1 Energy generation from photovoltaics

In 1990 only the following countries produced more than one TJ (Terajoule) of solar power (in decreasing order): Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Finland (!) and the Netherlands. The output of all other states now forming the EU was virtually zero. But gradually more and more countries embarked into photovoltaics. By the end of our reporting period, i.e. in 2009, just a handful of the 27 Member States remained abstinent from solar energy, amongst them the Baltic countries, Ireland, Poland and Romania. Due to the low starting level in practically every country, the relative changes experienced in each of them turned out to be close to 100% or even higher than that in some cases. Fig. 1 highlights the annual change of energy produced from photovoltaics in some selected countries. A significant increase is almost always linked to a corresponding growth in PV capacity.

The overall picture turns even more impressive when we take a different point of view.

Fig. 2 Electricity generation from photovoltaics, 1990 = 100

Fig. 2 illustrates how production figures have risen. The starting level is 1990 = 100. As can be inferred from the picture, some countries like Germany, Belgium and France even exceed the scale given. In 2009, Germany almost reached a whopping 600,000, thus being the unquestionable European champion in relative output since 1990. Spain (not shown) comes second with almost 100,000. One of the most striking examples, however, is Belgium where PV virtually did not exist until the year 2005, after which solar electricity began skyrocketing. In that context it is worthile noticing that Belgium is not a particularily sunny country. Nevertheless, PV is underlining its growth potential even in places where clear skies are not so frequent.

Having seen all those astounding figures we should not forget, however, that solar electricity is still a minor contributor to the entire power supply. This is true even in countries like Germany where the solar industry has been pampered with high subsidies. In any case, it will be exciting to follow the further development of photovoltaics in Europe over the next decades. Its full potential is still not exploited. The question is where its limits are.

2 comments on “Renewables in Europe 2: Photovoltaics

    • Yes, similar considerations for Asia and the Americas are on their way. The results should be available in the near future.

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