This summer was not easy for Europe. The Russian-Ukrainian war put the natural gas supply in Europe into crisis. Hot and dry weather has hit hydropower, wind power, and nuclear power. During this energy crisis, the EU's solar power generation hit a new high.
According to a study by the British environmental think tank Ember, solar power generation in Europe will increase by 28% compared with the summer of 2021, due to sunny weather and the installation of solar panels in various countries. Solar generated 99.4 TWh of electricity between May and August this year, accounting for 12% of total electricity generation, up from 9% in 2021, although this year it is partly due to a decline in other energy supplies.
Even though solar energy converts light into electricity, the European heat wave will actually affect the power generation efficiency of solar panels, but all sunshine and no rain still makes photovoltaic performance look outstanding. Ember senior analyst Paweł Czyżak said that the proportion of solar power generation has now exceeded 10%, which offers hope for a clean energy transition period and improved energy security.
According to the Ember report, the Netherlands had the highest share of solar power generation during this period at 23%, followed by Germany with 19%, while Poland had the largest increase in solar power generation over the past five years, with a 26-fold increase between summer 2018 and summer 2022. Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, and the Netherlands also saw a significant increase in solar installations.
Ember estimates that solar energy could save the EU 20 billion cubic meters of imported natural gas between May and August, assuming solar power replaces natural gas.
According to Dolf Gielen, director of technology and innovation at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the main reason for the record high solar power generation in Europe is the installation of more solar power plants. Basically installations grow by about 15% every year, which is at least a 15% gain due to newer solar panels being more efficient.
Although solar energy has provided a lot of help during the energy crisis and drought, solar energy is intermittent power generation after all, and it still needs other energy sources such as natural gas power generation or coal-fired power generation. Therefore, in the face of the increase in the penetration rate of renewable energy, Europe is also increasing its power storage capacity and installing more battery energy storage systems.
Now that Russia has curtailed natural gas supply, the price of natural gas in Europe has soared. The wholesale price of natural gas in Europe, TTF-related contracts, is more than 300% higher than that of a year ago. Electricity bills are under pressure. Therefore, the EU agreed in July to reduce natural gas consumption by next spring by 15%, the European Commission is also preparing to set a price ceiling for natural gas to solve the energy crisis.