Large utility-scale solar PV plants are advancing in densely populated European economies such as Italy and Germany, where so far smaller plants had prevailed.

In Italy, Danish developer European Energy has grid connected what it claims to be Italy’s largest photovoltaic plant, a 103MW array near Foggia in the southern region of Apulia.

“Italy is an important market for us. We are ready to invest approx. €800m ($898m) in the next 5 years to develop other projects in Italy, where the sunny days and overall climate conditions make a Dane like me envious,” European Energy chief executive Knud Erik Andersen said.

The company’s head of project development in Italy, Alessandro Migliorini, added that the solar plant is 50% more efficient than a similar park with 5-year-old technology, meaning “it will produce more energy in less space, reducing its footprint and landscape impact.”

Subsidy-free in Germany

In Germany, meanwhile, utility EnBW has received 18,000 modules from Chinese manufacturer Trina Solar for the 187MW Weesow-Willmersdorf array north of Berlin, which when it is completed by the end of this year will be the country’s largest, and also the largest without subsidies.

“We believe that we have a number of different options for marketing the electricity,” said Thorsten Jörß, head of project development for photovoltaics at EnBW.

The utility said it could be supplied to distribution customers or sold either on the market or as part of one or more long-term power purchase agreements (PPA).

"We are convinced that solar energy is competitive."

Population density

In both Italy and Germany, a large part of solar power capacity comes from rooftops, given the countries’ lack of space and food-versus-energy debates in the past. Both are among Europe’s most densely populated countries, with a population density of 232 people per square kilometer in Germany, and 201/km2 in Italy.

That compares to 3.2 people/km2 in Australia, or 33.2 people/km2 in the US, for example, two countries where large utility scale solar arrays have been constructed for many years.

“Large photovoltaic projects like this one are needed to push forward the Energiewende (energy transition),” Jörß points out.

To be able to build such a large solar array close to Berlin, EnBW has put in place compensatory and replacement measures for the protection of nature and species.

For example, the entire area on and around the solar park will be turned into a grassland habitat for a rich variety of species, EnBW said. The utility will plant shrubs and trees and also developing hedges and stepping stone biotopes, which it says will complement the natural habitat found in the neighbouring area.

European Energy said its plant is the 17th largest in the world with a single connection point, and will save more than 80,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year.