Recap of PVthin’s Scientific Virtual Reception – Spotlight on Sustainable Solar Photovoltaics
On 9 September, PVthin held its annual Scientific Reception, which under normal circumstances is organised on the side-lines of EU PVSEC – the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition. Due to health safety measures this year too both events took place in a virtual format. The event proposed a panel discussion with experts focused on the question “How enhanced PV sustainability strengthens the EU’s Industrial Strategy”, followed by a special message from Andreas Wade, who looked back at how thin-film technologies and the association evolved in 10 years.
Chris Case (Oxford PV) who was recently elected PVthin’s new president, opened the event and talked about PVthin’s commitment to support the EU’s ambition to establish itself as a global sustainability leader as as well as the association’s 10-year anniversary. He introduced Alexander Majer (First Solar), responsible for PVthin’s EU relations, who moderated the panel discussion with:
- Stephanie Weckend, Programme Officer, Knowledge at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
- Davide Polverini, Policy Officer, European Commission’s Directorate General DG Internal Market
- Seb Dance, Former MEP and Vice Chair of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee
- Professor Dr. Ayodhya N. Tiwari, Head of the Laboratory for Thin Films and Photovoltaics at Empa – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, member of PVthin’s Scientific Council
Stephanie Weckend, Programme Officer, Knowledge at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shared the key takeaways from the World Energy Transitions Outlook: 1.5°C Pathway. She explained that solar photovoltaics are expected to be the main pillar of electricity generation by 2050 and that the energy sector will be almost totally decarbonised by then.
- To achieve this, large investments will be crucial – 4.4 trillion USD per year until 2050, five times more than the actual investment. IRENA also estimates that these investments will bring relevant GDP increases – key to kickstarting the global economy after the pandemic – and other gains such as lower levels of air pollution. IRENA’s recommendations to make the end-of-cycle management sustainable were also outlined and Weckend highlighted that IRENA is working on an update of the study to increase these positive projections.
Davide Polverini, Policy Officer, European Commission’s Directorate General DG Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs brought a EU approach to the discussion. He explained that while there are a wide range of initiatives that could affect photovoltaics in Europe, the Ecodesign requirements and energy labelling is a key file for the industry.
- The Commission has been studying the environmental impacts of photovoltaics for some years and has worked to translate the sustainability ‘hotspots’ into concrete measures. Polverini added that there has already been some introductory meetings with stakeholders and that the Commission will soon be having more meetings on the issue. He categorised the measures as traditional (efficiency, performance, degradation…) and new requirements which are currently being developed such as information on the manufacturing process or carbon footprint of the photovoltaic modules. Lastly, he highlighted that they are working on two energy labels, one for modules and another one on installations.
Seb Dance, Former MEP and Vice Chair of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, European Parliament gave a brief overview of the political battles and challenges that lay ahead of the previously mentioned initiatives. He insisted on the need to bring the public with ‘us’ and how the files related to the EU Green Deal pose both a challenge and an opportunity.
- From his perspective, decision-makers at the EU level see solar photovoltaics as having few negative aspects. In his view, solar in large is free from the negative associations that are attached to other renewables and this might enable engaging with policy-makers, especially in the European Parliament where he finds there is a lot of tacit support. The former MEP added that although the EU has sufficient manufacturing capacity, the public perception is that the imports are necessary and that is why there is high excitement for other energies such as hydrogen.
Professor Dr. Ayodhya N. Tiwari, Head of the Laboratory for Thin Films and Photovoltaics at Empa – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, member of PVthin’s Scientific Council, also co-founder of Flisom started explaining how far thin-film technologies have come in the last years, proving its uniqueness and how they add value to the more traditional technologies.
- He shared his concerns over the impact of new regulations on innovation and novel technologies. He insisted on seeing what might seem as issues as real value and asked for clear statements from the EU institutions that don’t harm novel technologies. He also asked for caution when legislating on technologies that are on the verge of being commercialised.
The moderator continued into a discussion on Dr. Tiwari’s concerns which led to many other issues being discussed such as how the EU’s decision-making process’ speed might affect the measures to regulate the industry’s impact on the environment.
To conclude the reception, Andreas Wade, former PVthin President, briefly commented on the association’s 10-year anniversary. He went through PVthin’s journey and summarised the evolution of the association and the sector as a “solar coaster”- an initial boom cycle followed by the industry’s consolidation in high speed and the collapse of many companies on the way there.
PVthin thanks everyone who participated at the virtual event, and hopes to resume events and meetings with the solar PV community in person soon!