- PV and solar thermal
Solar energy technologies are divided into two broad categories: photovoltaic (PV) technologies, i.e. solar panels that produce electricity, and solar thermal technologies, which are commonly used to provide heating and cooling, as well as hot water, in homes.
Solar thermal may prove to be a more popular technology: it is cheaper and requires less sunlight than PV. In addition, reserves of silicon, the raw material necessary for producing PV panels, are running low, and an alternative method for producing the panels is not yet widely available.
- How much solar in the mix?
The EU is committed to a 20% share for renewables – wind, geothermal, hydro, biomass and solar – by 2020. Precisely how much solar power can be expected to contribute to that 20% target is the subject of debate, but all sources indicate that the contribution will be modest.
The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), for example, projects that PV and solar thermal combined will contribute a little more than 1% to the overall mix by 2020. By comparison, EREC expects wind and hydro to contribute between 4%-10%, and biomass is expected to contribute between 12.5%-14%.
- Solar thermal on the rise
The EU's solar thermal industry has seen double-digit annual growth rates during recent years. According to the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF), the market grew by 47% in 2006, with the German market representing nearly half of all sales.
Despite these impressive figures, the Commission points out that this "must not hide the fact that due to a late implication on the part of most of the European governments, the White Paper objectives [100 million square meters of solar thermal panels installed by the end of 2010] are not going to be reached in the established time limits". The Commission estimates that by 2010, installed capacity will have reached only one third of the objective.
- Future legislation
Before the end of 2007, the Commission will propose a Framework Directive on renewables, focusing on electricity, heating and fuel. Initially, the Commission had promised to put forward a separate proposal with specific targets for renewables in heating and cooling, but the idea was abandoned in favour of the Framework Directive, in which the Commission will only provide indications for member states, and will leave it up to member states themselves to set specific sectoral targets for renewables in heating and cooling (EurActiv 24/05/07).