2023-04-01 publication

Debate: "Photovoltaics made in Europe"

If you ask Nadine Bethge of Environmental Action Germany, Europe needs to keep up in the competition to develop photovoltaic production capacity and set the gold standard for a just transformation with a clean PV value chain. 

By Nadine Bethge

VDE dialog - the technology magazine
Nadine Bethge, Deputy Head of the Energy and Climate Department at Environmental Action Germany

Nadine Bethge is Deputy Head of Energy and Climate Protection at Deutsche Umwelthilfe. She is particularly dedicated to the topics of renewable energies and energy infrastructures, with a focus on sustainability management and stakeholder communication.

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Looking back at the past year from an energy and climate policy perspective, two issues have become apparent. First, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has now forced everyone to admit that our dependency on fossil fuel imports is a huge security risk. Second, 2022 was (once again) the hottest year on record and the threat of climate collapse is looming ever larger. The solution to both of these challenges is called “freedom energy”, and photovoltaics (PV) plays a key role.

The PV expansion is set to take off within the next few years in Germany, not to mention the rest of the world. If we are to succeed in this absolutely crucial push for solar energy, it will take a massive expansion of PV production capacity. International competition in this area has long been underway. India and the US in particular are making great strides, aiming to ensure their own energy transitions by attracting photovoltaics companies. All of this is underpinned by China’s current monopoly. The ­People’s Republic now controls more than 80 percent of the entire PV supply chain – an alarming fact given the accusations of environmentally damaging practices and human rights violations in the country.
In these times of pandemic-related supply problems and geopolitical saber-rattling, Europe, too, would be well advised to break away from such import dependencies. It should therefore develop its own PV production capacities in the high gigawatt range along the entire value chain as quickly as possible. The EU is sending a clear signal in this regard with the Critical Raw Materials Act. However, the renaissance of the PV industry should not merely be a matter of safeguarding German commodities and promoting the local industry. Instead, it should also be taken as an opportunity to set high standards of environmental protection and human rights so that clean and fair supply chains are established from the very start. Recycling of PV products at the end of their useful life should also be considered right from the outset.

Transparent and environmentally friendly value chains will form the foundation of a fair and sustainable energy transition. Germany and the rest of the EU must therefore boldly commit to expanding photovoltaic production. To enable truly green industrial policies, we must provide financial incentives and investment funds that are effective in the short term and available over the long term while also increasing the reuse and recycling of PV modules.