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EU Plans Large Hike in Solar Panel Roofs

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The European Commission (the main decision-making body of the EU) is mulling over a plan to increase dramatically the amount of rooftop solar in Europe, by making it a legal requirement for all new buildings. The intention is to cut gas use in homes, offices, retail and industrial enterprises. The conflict in Ukraine is a factor in this, but gas prices were spiking in 2021 before the current troubles in Eastern Europe.

The European Solar Rooftops Initiative is part of a wider plan to increase the EU's renewable energy target for 2030 and reduce its members dependency on imported fuels, particularly Russian gas. A draft document from the Commission states, “Solar electricity and heat are key for phasing out EU's dependence on Russian natural gas.”

Fortunately solar PV costs have fallen by over 80 per cent during the last decade. It is still a small part of the energy mix compared to natural gas: solar panels produced only 5 per cent of electricity in the EU in 2020 and a mere 1.5 percent of heat.

There has been renewed interest in reviving solar panel manufacturing in the EU, to enhance the possibilities of jobs and industrial growth. China currently has a monopoly on solar panel manufacture, and it is hard to discern favorable economics, given the disparity in wages between EU nations and China.

The initiative is likely to require streamlined permitting for rooftop installations. EU funding may be available to balance out the financial strain on the poorer EU nations. Another option would be to require all public buildings to have solar panels on their roofs. This project likely would need retraining and reskilling a workforce to fit the panels, as well as capital funding for factories to make the panels. So it would need a significant capital input, and buy-in from major EU countries, if it is to succeed in creating more rooftop microgrids all over Europe.

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