Solar power additions across the EU are expected to rise strongly during the coming four years, supported by policies in Brussels and member countries, after PV installations in 2020 increased at their second fastest pace ever despite challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Industry group SolarPower Europe in its latest outlook sees additions in a medium scenario of 22.4GW in 2021 (range of 14.9GW low scenario – 28.8GW high scenario), which means a 5% higher demand than forecasted last year.

For the following two years, the group is even more upbeat, now projecting 27.4GW in 2022 and 30.8GW in 2023. That level would be topped by 35GW in 2024, bringing the EU’s cumulative PV capacity to 252GW by that year.

"It has been a difficult year for all sectors, and so it is very positive to finish 2020 with such a clear endorsement for solar power," SolarPower Europe chief executive Walburga Hemetsberger said.

"Despite the impact of Covid-19, solar has not only grown, it has thrived, proving it to be a resilient, predictable, and secure technology where other energy sources failed.

"Europe is now on track to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world, and solar can help achieve this goal, by not only providing renewable and flexible energy, but also creating millions of jobs and ensuring a just transition for all Europeans."

To speed up solar growth even further, Europe should take initiatives to tap more into its gigantic solar roof potential, tackle power grid constraints and reform and widen its emission trading system (ETS), SolarPower Europe recommends in the ‘key policy files’ of its outlook.

SolarPower Europe in its report also gives recommendations on how to correctly apply the means of the European Commission’s plan to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

"Beyond installation on rooftops, European-developed applications such as building-integrated PV and Agri-PV, mean that solar can be deployed across all structures and terrains," SolarPower Europe policy director Aurélie Beauvais added.

2020 second-best year ever

Despite the negative impact of the virus on everyday life, solar power has shown strong resilience this year, making 2020 the second-best ever for solar in the EU as 18.2GW were installed across the 27 member states (the UK already excluded), according to preliminary figures.

That was an 11% improvement over the 16.2GW deployed in 2019.

Germany recovered its position as number one market in Europe, adding 4.8GW in 2020. It was followed by the Netherlands (2.8GW), Spain (2.6GW) and surprisingly, Poland (2.2GW), which now also is searching for other power sources than coal.

While the top markets still accounted for the bulk of additions, a trend towards a diversification of installations across all EU member states is accelerating, with France installing 0.9GW, Italy 0.8GW, Hungary 0.6GW and Belgium also 0.6GW.

That trend is likely to intensify, SolarPower Europe predicts.

While the top 10 markets in 2020 still hosted 90% of the EU’s new solar installations, their share will recede to some 84% in 2024, as solar is growing in most countries.

In 2024, the industry group expects market leader Germany’s share to shrink to 20% (from 24% in 2020) of all EU new installations, and that of the Netherlands to 12% (from 15%), while current outliers such as Romania or Bulgaria will each carve out 3% of the EU market for solar additions.