Renewable manufacturing at First Solar's Frankfurt (Oder) plant

Indecision stalls European renewable investment

Solar companies have called on European Union nations to be clearer in their policies and subsidies for renewables and to provide support that will slow down a migration of the industry to the Far East.

Although the decision by the German government to abandon nuclear has encouraged executives in the industry, they are concerned about the long-term commitment of individual member states despite the EU’s targets for carbon reduction by 2020.

Speaking at a meeting in Brussels with European Commission officials in late May organised by industry group SEMI Europe, First Solar’s director of government affairs Christopher Burghardt said: “We are extremely happy with Germany at the moment. We recently decided to double capacity in German factory. It will be half a gigawatt per year as of October this year.

Burghardt added: “Looking at France, however. The regulatory environment there has led to a suspension of our plans. There is no visibility of what the market will do. We hope [the suspension] will focus the minds of some of the politicians.”

Milan Nitzschke, vice president of sustainable development at Solar World, said: “Italy said they would like to start in nuclear again. At the time everyone knew it would not happen. But they decided to cut renewable tariffs. And now, since Fukushima, they don’t talk about nuclear anymore.

“The European Commission needs to make sure that governments try to meet their [renewables] targets,” Nitzschke added.

Executives claimed the frequent changes on policy are making it harder to raise money for European projects and are helping to drive manufacturing eastward. “The financial community is now very sensitive about funding PV in Europe,” claimed André-Jacques Auberton Hervé, president and CEO of Soitec, which bought solar-cell maker Concentrix last year.

Nitzschke said, in contrast, China is offering “risk mitigation”. In addition to generous loan arrangements – two solar companies recently received interest-free loans to the total of $12bn – and tax breaks, he claimed:  “China says to cell manufacturers that if they can’t sell to Europe, the government will purchase the inventory and find places where it can be installed in China. Risk mitigation makes it very attractive to invest in Asia.”

Eicke Weber, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy (ISE), added: “The issue is how to keep globally competitive manufacturing within Europe,” said

Hans van Steen, head of the regulatory policy and renewable energy promotion unit at the European Commission’s energy directorate general, said the decision on incentives for renewables remain with member states but added: “We need to make sure that the European legislation is implemented fully and correctly by member states. We are evaluating how member states are doing that.”

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