Euro-bodies eye mega-PV factory

Leading European solar research bodies are working on a concept for a multi-gigawatt PV factory to restore the competitiveness of Europe’s solar sector, and enable it to compete head-on with China’s giants by creating economies of scale and using the latest technological advances.

“European manufacturers of solar cells and modules are having great difficulties to survive in the current crisis of the sector,” the Freiburg-based Fraunhofer ISE institute said. But it claimed that European solar research institutes, manufacturers and materials continue to have a technological edge.

“Without a close cooperation with strong clients in Europe, their independence and production sites are increasingly endangered, however. The xGWp-consortium meets that challenge with a new concept.”

Fraunhofer ISE together with France’s Institut National de l’Energie Solari (INES) and Switzerland’s Centre Suisse d’Électronique et Microtechnique (CSEM), as well as several undisclosed companies in the solar sector are at the core of the project.

European governments are also expected to support the idea, a Fraunhofer ISE official told Recharge.

While Fraunhofer and the other research institutes have been brewing the project for a while, the institute chose to disclose more information on it now after French president François Hollande earlier this week said he envisaged forming a joint company with Germany to foster the countries’ energy transition, that was quickly dubbed the “energy Airbus” by the French and German media.

French media have linked Hollande’s statement to the xGWp project, but a German energy ministry official stressed to Recharge that the solar project was still in its early phases.

xGWp should contribute to make Europe’s PV industry competitive again at a time when global demand is picking up again, Fraunhofer ISE said, stressing that the global PV market is expected to expand from 45GW in 2014 to 100 or more GW in 2020.

“As a European flagship project it should spread out beyond its own production and show that with an adequate approach, technologies developed in Europe can also be produced here,” Fraunhofer ISE says.

“PV can achieve a great economic importance for Europe both as a substitute for energy imports as well as an export product.”