Brussels, 05 Dec 2003
Top solar power stakeholders from research and industry have come together to form a European Photovoltaics Research Advisory Council, following a European Commission initiative.
At their first meeting in Brussels on 4 December, the council's 18 members began their deliberations on the setting of a strategic research agenda for photovoltaic technology and the drafting of a 'foresight' report that will endeavour to point the way for the long-term development of solar power in Europe. Comprising members such as the Shell Group, Free Energy Europe and the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, the council was established with the support of EU Energy and Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, and Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.
A spokesperson for Mr Busquin described the photovoltaic research council's first meeting as positive, stressing that industry was particularly satisfied with this opportunity to focus minds on the future of the technology and have its views heard by the Commission. The council will be submitting their strategic research agenda and foresight report to the Commission towards the end of 2004.
Some 200 million euro of Community funds has been allocated to almost 200 research and development projects in the photovoltaic field over the last ten years. However, the technology remains under-utilised in Europe, and it is now felt that a more strategic approach is necessary to respond to the current situation.
'So far, electricity produced from photovoltaic technology represents only a very small part of the total electricity generated in the Union,' said Mr Busquin on the occasion of the council first meeting. 'This contribution will remain static unless more ambitious measures are taken. We need to consider how we can overcome the technical, legal and socio-economic obstacles to increase the uptake of this sustainable energy system.'
Although the photovoltaic sector represents only a small part of Europe's energy output, the EU is still the world's second largest manufacturer of this solar technology, accounting for more than 24 per cent of overall production, behind Japan (44 per cent) and ahead of the US (22 per cent). Current forecasts show large potential for solar electricity production, for which Europe has seen an average growth rate of 30 per cent per year over the last decade.
Originally developed for space applications in the 1960s, photovoltaic technology is clean and easy to maintain, can be installed almost anywhere, and is easily adapted to suit consumers' needs. The electricity produced can be used directly or simply fed into an existing electricity grid. While this flexibility is its major strength, photovoltaic technology is still expensive compared to other forms of electricity generation. Costs are falling, but this process needs to be aided through further research and development, according to the Commission's White Paper on the promotion of renewable energies.
The paper also sets the goal of increasing the installed generating capacity of photovoltaics in the EU to 3GW by 2010. Apart from technical barriers, a number of social and political barriers to the progress of photovoltaics also need to be overcome. The Commission emphasises the importance of socio-economic research related to wider public awareness and acceptance, training programmes for installers and the harmonisation of European codes and standards.
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