SolarPower Europe highlights Polish rooftop incentive as case study for the effectiveness of policy support

The Euro trade body has promised to monitor the developing solar jobs market annually from now on, and pointed to Poland’s position at the top of the tree of EU member states for PV jobs last year as evidence the technology can still benefit from legislative backing.

November 4, 2021

The solar jobs report published by trade body SolarPower Europe, which predicted raised ambition from the EU could drive a 1.1 million-strong PV workforce this decade, also showcased the effectiveness of incentive programs.

With small scale, rooftop PV considerably more employment intensive than big, ground-mounted projects, SolarPower Europe estimated the household solar program in Poland helped drive the equivalent of 91,467 full-time jobs (designated ‘FTE,’ or full-time equivalent) in the nation last year, ensuring it was the biggest EU member state solar employer.

While the trade body noted that was also down to cheap labor costs in the country – a factor which also hoisted Greece, with its 24,262 FTE solar workforce to fifth place – the report’s authors predicted the planned expiry of Poland’s rooftop incentive program will leave the nation with 33,431-101,468 solar jobs in 2025. The variance is explained by the fact the study based expectations on three scenarios: business as usual; full achievement of the ‘European Solar Initiative‘ (ESI) plan to establish 20 GW of polysilicon-to-solar-module annual manufacturing capacity in Europe; and a third, ‘medium’ outcome between the two.

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Lack of rooftop incentives in 2025, would see Germany – which SolarPower Europe estimated employed 79,018 full-time equivalents in its PV-related workforce last year – rise to the top spot, with somewhere between 104,739 and 167,214 photovoltaic industry employees.

In terms of last year, third-placed Spain was notable for being the only nation in the top seven of Europe’s solar employers to have a workforce (40,215 FTE) not largely dependent on the rooftop market. With big-solar-related employment expected to represent a larger share of the whole in 2025 – in part thanks to hoped-for easing of permitting procedures – Spain is expected to fall to fourth place by that point, with a 32,320-60,155 solar workforce.

The numbers

The SolarPower Europe study – its first jobs publication since 2017, and which it has now promised will be an annual affair – predicted France, which employed an estimated 18,818 in solar last year, would have a 33,624-60,418 solar labor market in 2025. Greece, which employed 24,262 FTE last year, will retain fifth place in 2025, with 26,917-54,250 workers, and the solar jobs number will also rise in the Netherlands, from last year’s 27,055 to 27,976-47,288, even if the nation goes down the ranking, from fourth to seventh position. By 2025, the report predicted, Italy, with its 16,874 solar workforce last year, will have been replaced in the top seven by Romania, which will support 15,376-54,635 photovoltaics-linked jobs, thanks again to cheaper labor and a market led by the residential market.

Aside from demonstrating the effectiveness of policy support, the study was used to repeat the call for member state governments to deliver on the ESI solar manufacturing ambition of SolarPower Europe, EU body EIT InnoEnergy and other members of the industrial partnership.

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With the bloc supporting 357,000 solar jobs last year, according to the document, that number is expected to rise to 463,000 this year and could hit 1.1 million in 2030, if the EU raises its renewable energy ambition such that clean power supply 45% of final energy consumption – rather than the 40% that marks the current European Commission target – and supports all the solar manufacturing the trade body is calling for.

The report included a roll call of SolarPower Europe members to demonstrate the PV manufacturing knowhow is already present, from German polysilicon maker Wacker through to around 30 European module makers, via newly-arrived ingot producer Norwegian Crystals, PV cell making plans announced by German equipment maker Meyer Burger, and encapsulation materials company Borealis, in Austria. And not forgetting the inverter manufacturers in Germany (SMA), Austria (Fronius), and Italy (Fimer) – and Israeli company SolarEdge‘s Hungarian production unit; German racking businesses Mounting Systems and K2, Spanish tracker giant Soltec, and Switzerland’s Stäubli, which provides electrical bridge connectors.

Perovskites

Oxford PV was mentioned on the basis of its budding perovskite solar fab plans in Germany, and Italian energy company Enel was praised for its solar module ambition, with SolarPower Europe broadcasting the message the continent can again compete with Chinese producers.

And with numerous previous renewables-lobby publications blithely reporting the number of new clean energy posts will outweigh job losses in coal mining-dependent regions, SolarPower Europe has at least tried to connect up the dots for a ‘just transition.’ The report pointed out decommissioned coal mine sites would be perfect choices to install fields of solar panels, including areas which will flood when pumping ceases, and which can therefore host floating projects.

As yesterday’s study noted, EU body the Joint Research Center has estimated Europe’s coal regions could host 1,516 GW of renewable energy capacity – and would have a ready and eager workforce on hand to install it.

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