European solar production on the horizon


An increasing demand for photovoltaics, technological innovations and decreasing costs are making the manufacturing of photovoltaic products in Europe attractive. This trend is further boosted by the research and mechanical engineering expertise represented on the continent as well as problems with global supply chains induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the still tangible effects of the corona pandemic, European companies such as Meyer Burger and NexWafe are setting up new production facilities in Europe.

In view of a drop in order intakes suffered in the second quarter of 2020 and a global drop of installations by four percent to 112 Gigawatts (GW) in the year 2020, SolarPower Europe’s Global Market Outlook (GMO) 2020-2024 predicts growth of up to 34 percent for the coming year. And the coronavirus pandemic is not expected to change this. According to SolarPower Europe, solar is often more cost-efficient than other power generation technologies. This trend that is accelerating with time since the costs of solar power generation are still dropping faster than those of other competitive technologies. It is predicted that newly installed photovoltaic capacity in Europe will reach at least 30 gigawatts each year between now and 2023. Governmental programs promoting sustainability such as the European Green Deal and the EU Recovery Package are accelerating this trend.

Innovation drives development

Innovations in the photovoltaic value chain (in the module, cell and wafer segments in particular) are also helping drive this market development. This can be seen in the trajectory of solar module development – from multi-busbar technology to half-cut cell modules to solar tiles and shingles. Meanwhile, both module wattage and wafer size have increased over time. The next step toward even greater efficiency is heterojunction technology, which boasts cell efficiencies of over 25 percent.
Product innovations and optimizations, rising demand and sinking production costs are enabling solar companies to bring photovoltaic production back to Europe. Initiatives and collaborations such as the Solar Manufacturing Accelerator scheme aim to re-establish and advance PV production in Europe. According to German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA), Europe is an attractive location for production because production in Europe is environmentally friendly and profitable and has proven feasible even without external subsidies.

Meyer Burger and NexWafe set up production facilities in Germany 

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 a solar valley. The mechanical engineering specialist will become a producer of solar cells and modules. 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 GW by 2026. Meyer Burger seeks to contribute to an environmentally friendly transformation of the European industry and create up to 3,500 jobs in the medium term. Production in Europe will shorten the supply chain in terms of time and geographical distance, thus also reducing carbon emissions.

But this is not the only project to be realized in the former solar valley: NexWafe, a company based in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Saxony-Anhalt, is planning the cost-efficient mass production of silicon wafers, 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, saving resources and reducing costs. The production capacity is expected to reach 15 GW by 2026.

Once the facility is set up, wafer manufacturing costs should be reduced to half of those currently incurred by leading Asian manufacturers.

Further European players are also ramping up their production capacities: NorSun, a Norwegian manufacturer of monocrystalline silicon blocks and wafers, is planning to increase annual production capacity from 450 MW to 1 GW, reducing unit costs by 30 percent as a result. The company plans to expand production capacity from 4 to 5 gigawatts by 2024. In summary, Europe’s vision on high-efficiency, next-generation solar technology, a low-cost manufacturing process. and innovative solar cells could further boost a switch to solar energy and recharge the European solar-panel production.