Product innovations and optimizations, rising demand and sinking production costs are enabling solar companies to bring photovoltaic production back to Europe. This trend is further boosted by the research and mechanical engineering expertise represented on the continent as well as by problems with global supply chains stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
Initiatives and collaborations such as the Solar Manufacturing Accelerator scheme aim to re-establish and advance PV production in Europe. “Europe is an attractive production site, because production is environmentally friendly and profitable here and has proven feasible even without subsidies,” explains Dr. Jutta Trube, Vice Managing Director of the sector association Electronics, Micro and New Energy Production Technologies (EMINT) at the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA).
Swiss-based company Meyer Burger is set to build module production facilities in Freiberg (Saxony) and Bitterfeld-Wolfen (Saxony-Anhalt), which will help revive a region that used to be Germany’s solar valley. The start of production is scheduled for the first half of 2021 with an output of 400 megawatts (MW) in solar cells and 400 MW in solar modules. The plan is to expand the factory’s production to 5 gigawatts (GW) by 2026, which is expected to create as many as 3,500 direct jobs.
But this is not the only project to be realized in the former solar valley: NexWafe, a company based in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Baden-Württemberg, is planning the cost-efficient mass production of silicon wafers, so far the most expensive component of a solar module. The start-up has developed a process which lowers silicon losses during wafer production by 90 percent. The production capacity is expected to reach 15 GW by 2026 and wafer manufacturing costs should be reduced to half of those currently incurred by leading Asian manufacturers.
Other European players are also ramping up their production capacities: NorSun, a Norwegian manufacturer of monocrystalline silicon blocks and wafers, increased its annual production capacity from 450 MW to 1 GW last year, reducing unit costs by 30 percent as a result. The company plans to expand production capacity from 4 to 5 GW by 2024.
Intersolar Europe, the world's leading exhibition for the solar industry, will once again dedicate an exhibition space to PV production technologies in 2021. The exhibition will take place as part of The smarter E Europe Restart 2021 at Messe München from October 6–8, 2021.