Solar power has witnessed a rapid growth in Europe in recent years, as the region’s countries step up efforts to transition to renewable energy to fight climate change.
Looking to boost its renewable energy mix, Europe’s total installed solar power capacity jumped from 17.1 gigawatt (GW) in 2009 to 121.6GW in 2018, according to a report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Solar power continues to make a significant contribution to the overall increase in renewable energy production in Europe. The total renewable energy produced in the continent increased from 295.7GW in 2009 to 536.3GW in 2018. Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Austria and Denmark currently produce more than 30% of their total electricity from renewable sources.
While not the most prolific producer on the global stage — that honour goes to Asia, predominantly driven by China —Europe contributed around139 Terawatt-hours (TWh) to the world’s total solar power generation of 584.6TWh in 2018, according to BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019.
NS Energy profiles Europe’s top five solar energy producing countries:
1. Germany – 45.9GW
Leading the way in Europe, Germany is the continent’s leading producer of solar energy with an installed capacity of 45.9GW in 2018. The country features among the top solar producing countries in the world, behind China, the US, and Japan.
In 2018, Germany added nearly 3GW of new solar capacity. The country makes up 7.9% of the total consumption of solar power in the world.
In February 2019, state-owned utility EnBW announced plans to build the country’s largest solar farm to date, the 175 megawatt (MW) Weesow-Willmersdorf solar park in Brandenburg. A final investment decision on the Weesow-Willmersdorf solar park is due to be taken before the end of 2019, with a target to bring it online by end 2020.
Other major solar power plants in Germany include the 166MW Solarpark Meuro, which has been operating in Schipkau since 2011, the 145MW Neuhardenberg Solar Park and the 128.5MW Templin Solar Park.
2. Italy – 20.1GW
Although possessing less than half of the installed solar capacity of Germany, Italy ranks second in the list of top European solar producing countries, with a capacity of 20.1GW in 2018.
Italy, which is ranked sixth-largest solar producer in the world, added 420MW of new capacity in 2018. The country’s solar capacity saw sharp growth in recent years from an installed capacity that was less than 100MW pre-2008. Italy added a record 9GW of new solar capacity in 2011, alone.
The 84.2MW Montalto di Castro Photovoltaic Power Station in Viterbo province is the largest solar facility in the country. It has been operating since late 2009.
Other notable solar power projects include the Rovigo Photovoltaic Power Plant, with a capacity of 70MW. Located in San Bellino, the facility has been operating since late 2010.
Earlier this year, the Italian government set a target of achieving 50GW of installed solar capacity by 2030.
3. UK – 13.1GW
The UK is the third-largest solar energy producer in Europe, with an installed capacity of 13.1GW in 2018. Solar power accounts for more than 25% of the country’s renewable energy capacity, which was 43.4GW last year.
Though largely driven by its wind energy capacity, the UK has the fifth largest renewable energy capacity in Europe. As part of its efforts to speed up the shift to such energy production, the UK plans to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2025. The country is also one of the leading producers of solar power in the world.
Last year, Elgin Energy secured planning permission from the Scottish Government for the construction of a 50MW solar project.
Additionally, leading provider British Solar Renewable (BSR) received the go-ahead in 2018 to start development of the UK’s first non-subsidised industrial photovoltaic (PV) solar farm at Westcott Venture Park, Oxfordshire. Around 60,000 solar panels are expected to be installed, producing a up to 14.5GW of energy per year.
4. France – 9.4GW
France has the fourth-largest installed solar power capacity in Europe. This was 9.4GW in 2018, accounting for nearly one-fifth of its total renewable capacity of 50.5GW.
In August, the French government gave the go-ahead for 103 solar power projects with a combined capacity of 720MW, as part of the fourth round of the country’s solar tender. The country aims to add 3GW of new solar capacity to its energy mix by 2020.
EDF Group – through its subsidiary EDF Energies Nouvelles, in 2017, announced plans to build 30GW of solar plants in France, over the period of 2020 to 2035.
In October 2019, French renewable energy producer Akuo Energy commissioned the 17MW O’MEGA1 floating solar plant in Piolenc, Vaucluse. Capable of powering 4,373 homes, the floating solar plant has 47,000 solar PV panels. It will offset 1,093 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
The 115MW Toul-Rosieres Solar Park in the Lorraine region is one of the largest photovoltaic power stations in France. With an annual output of approximately 60GWh, the solar farm supplies electricity required to power the needs of 55,000 people and eliminates 4,600 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
5. Spain – 7GW
Spain is the fifth-largest producer of solar power in Europe, with an installed capacity of 7GW in 2018.
In 2018, the country announced plans to switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2050 — 3,000GW of wind and solar power annually until 2028.
In September 2019, Spanish electric utility Iberdrola announced proposals to build four new solar plants in Spain, with capacity totalling 250MW. The plans are part of Iberdrola’s commitment to increase its investment in clean energy generation in Spain by installing 3GW new capacity by 2022.
Some of the other solar projects under construction in the country include the 500MW Nunez De Balboa solar plant in the Badajoz province, Extremadura and the 300MW Talayuela solar power project.
The Nunez De Balboa solar plant is expected to become the biggest of its kind in Spain and one of the biggest in Europe, with completion scheduled for 2020.
Earlier this year, Spanish utility company Naturgy commissioned a 150MW PV solar energy complex in Castilla-La Mancha, while Enel Green Power connected the Murcia-located 85MW Totana solar plant to the grid.