Photovoltaic: the key role of reshoring in Europe
In recent years, the growth in the new photovoltaic power worldwide has been constant and significant, and forecasts by the main research centres confirm this positive trend for the short-term future too. 3SUN is an example of how it is possible to create an all-European solar production chain.
According to what emerges from the Snapshot of Global PV Markets 2023 report by the IEA-Pvps (International Energy Agency – Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme) research centres, 240 GW of new systems were installed worldwide In 2022 alone. This figure marks a 37% growth on 2021 (175 GW). And for 2023, 350 - 400 GW of new installations have been estimated.
The growth in solar power is fierce, but has shown some critical elements at the same time. In recent years, the production of photovoltaic components has mainly been concentrated in Asian markets and the post-Covid pandemic recovery, together with the war between Russia and Ukraine have made this situation even worse, with a consequent increase in supply times and prices. With the new solar power growing significantly once more in EU countries too, the need to reshore a part of product in Europe has emerged, with targeted government actions and industry initiatives that could help this reality even more. One of the most important examples in this area is our 3SUN Gigafactory in Catania.
Reshoring: the key role for Europe and the energy transition
So what role will reshoring have in Europe as part of the aim of reducing dependence on China? Let’s start with a few figures: the Asian giant’s market share in the production of solar panels now exceeds 80%. This figure comes from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report “Solar PV Global Supply Chains”, according to which production of key parts, including polysilicon and wafers, will increase to over 95% in the next few years. The IEA emphasises all the criticalities of such dependency, starting with the vulnerabilities linked to possible bottlenecks that could lead to price increases or delays in deliveries.
The IEA would therefore welcome a geographical diversification of panel production. It formulates a number of recommendations, mainly aimed at governments: encouraging the creation of production sites inside large industrial areas, aiding investments through adequate fiscal policies, guaranteeing production that respects environmental and social sustainability, investing in technological research to improve panel performance and thus reducing costs, establishing regulations for the recycling of materials, thus reducing the demand for raw materials - that, in the case of rare earth minerals, come from Asia - and therefore also for imports.
European Union: the measures and objectives for sustaining growth in the sector
This context has driven the European Union to introduce new measures in order to respond to the growth in new photovoltaic installations within the Union.
Among the targets set in the draft Net-Zero business plan, presented on 14 March, is the goal of increasing European production capacity of strategic technologies for the energy transition to at least 40% of the EU's annual needs. Among the technologies identified as crucial is solar photovoltaics. The aim of the plan is to speed up the development of green technologies, thus reducing dependency on third-party countries, including China. And not just that: on December 9, 2022, the European Commission in Brussels formally launched European Solar PV Industry Alliance, through which Europe intends to achieve 30 GW of annual production capacity by 2025. The goal is to return the photovoltaic industry to Europe in all segments of the supply chain, from silicon to the finished product. It also intends to create a competitive position within the growth in demand for photovoltaic power in Europe and worldwide.
Returning the production chain to Europe also means creating greater employment value. The IEA estimates that for each GW of photovoltaic capacity added in Europe, 1,300 new jobs could be created, while the SolarPower Europe association talks of 400,000 new indirect and direct jobs along the entire solar chain by 2025.
3SUN: innovation and technology for an internal production chain
3SUN is an example of how it is possible, in Italy, and therefore in Europe, to produce the latest-generation photovoltaic panels that can compete on international markets thanks to the latest technology, satisfying both safety and energy independence requirements at the same time as economic, employment and environmental needs. A perfect catalyst for restoring the European photovoltaic chain.
The new production plant in Catania is getting ready to work at full regime from 2024, and thus actively contribute to the creation of an EU solar production chain. In fact, with a production capacity of 3 GW per year, we will be the largest factory of photovoltaic cells and modules in Europe.
A15-fold increase in production capacity – with 15,000 panels made per year - combined with the quality and excellence of products that the Gigafactory will produce. Our Hetero Junction (HJT) technology, known as 3SUN CORE-H, ensures high performance to create more efficient, competitive, long-lasting and tough photovoltaic panels. But we won’t stop here: we are developing a technology called TANGO, that follows a tandem structure, namely, that pairs hetero-junction with perovskite to expand the spectrum of sunlight that can be converted into electricity to blue light, increasing technological efficiency to over 30%.
The increase in production capacity from 200 MW per year to the future 3 GW has also been made possible thanks to the TANGO research and development project (Italian PV Giga Factory), through which 3SUN has been selected by the European Commission during the Innovation Fund's first call for bids. The total investment for this project is approximately 600 million Euro, 188.6 million of which come from the public Innovation Fund and the Italian National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR).
Our Gigafactory can also bring huge social, economic and environmental benefits to the area, both locally, nationally and in Europe, starting with the creation of jobs: about 900 direct and 1,000 indirect.