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EU seeks to boost solar energy to cut Russian gas, draft shows

The European Commission wants to install over 300 gigawatts of photovoltaics by the middle of this decade.
Image: Bloomberg

The European Union’s executive arm is drafting a strategy to more than double the pace at which solar panels are installed across the bloc under a plan to rapidly rid itself of Russian fossil fuels following the country’s war in Ukraine.

The European Commission wants to install over 300 gigawatts of photovoltaics by the middle of this decade — twice the level seen in 2020 — and more than 500 gigawatts by 2030, according to a draft of its solar energy strategy seen by Bloomberg. The plan involves a “swift, massive deployment” of solar panels on rooftops, starting with buildings that have the highest energy consumption, and will be published alongside new legislation to speed up permitting.

Scaling up renewables will be a key pillar of the EU’s plan, which will be launched next week, to cut imports of Russian gas by nearly two thirds this year, as well as its broader goal of reaching climate neutrality by the middle of the century. The war waged by President Vladimir Putin has aggravated the energy crisis, sending power and gas prices to records and forcing the issue to the top of the European political agenda.

“Europe’s solar industry is de facto at rock bottom at a time when we are filling Putin’s war chests and citizens have to spend a lot of money on electricity,” said Michael Bloss, a German member of the EU Parliament in the Green group. “Europe’s citizens can no longer afford the high prices.”

The Commission is due to adopt the package on May 18. It will also include a roadmap for biomethane, a plan to boost hydrogen production and imports and a blueprint for EU external energy engagement. The draft solar strategy may still change before it’s finalized.

As it stands, it is likely to disappoint the five member states who last week called on Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen to deliver a 2030 goal of 1,000 gigawatts — roughly equivalent to the world’s current solar capacity.

By the end of the year, the EU wants to take action to ensure that permitting takes place in less than three months — while also making sure that solar installation is compulsory for all new buildings and when they are being renovated. The Commission estimates that the initiative would add 17 terawatt hours of electricity after the first year of implementation.

By 2025, that figure rises to 42 terawatt hours, over a third more than envisaged in the bloc’s climate legislation launched last year.

Under the strategy, member states should designate “go-to areas” for renewable energy projects in a bid to speed up the permitting process. The Commission will also develop guidance to promote innovative forms of solar energy, such as floating photovoltaics for the sea or large lakes.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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