After years of dependence on imports from Asia, the time is right to push for a renaissance of the solar industry in Europe, industry representatives Christian Müller und Gunter Erfurt write in a guest article for energy policy newsletter Tagesspiegel Background. Only about two percent of the solar PV modules installed in the EU in recent years were produced in Europe, while the vast majority of installations has been imported from Asia and especially China, where environmental and labour standards are often far less strict, they write. Reports on the use of forced labour in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang already prompted the USA to impose an import ban on certain products in the solar PV production chain, the authors say, arguing that “the pan-European solar power strategy has begun to not only concern economic but also humanitarian aspects.” The German solar power industry, which used to prosper 20 years ago, has been greatly diminished, as Chinese producers scooped up market shares by offering much lower prices. “With the relocation of production, not only economic growth and jobs were lost but also transparency in the supply chains,” the authors write, adding that studies suggest CO2 emissions of panel production are two times higher in China than in Europe. “This would be difficult to reconcile with the goal of climate neutrality by 2045,” they say, adding that the time is right to reconsider production conditions. European producers are leading in new solar PV technologies, meaning that there is an opportunity to establish new production lines in the region itself that include raw material sourcing, cell production and recycling. While this would mean Europe has to invest up to 400 million euros in solar PV production, the growth perspectives for the EU market justify these efforts, with Germany being one of the main beneficiaries, they argue.
The side effects of producing and disposing of renewable energy installations are increasingly shifting into focus as solar PV and wind power are on track to become leading sources of energy in Europe and around the world, if climate action pledges are to be honoured. German and European manufacturers are hoping that cleaner production conditions and more transparent supply chains will help to regain or consolidate market shares vis-à-vis cheaper competitors from Asia.