Europe’s drive to replace Russian energy with renewable energy is threatened by dependence on China. If solar panel components are not sourced from China, plans to build more solar power plants and solar production in Europe will be blocked.
According to the International Energy Agency, 80 percent of solar production and panel manufacturing chains are located in China. The agency predicts that by 2025 this percentage could rise to 95. The head of the Estonian Solar Energy Association, Andres Meesak, explained that the production of panels is energy-intensive, and electricity in China is cheaper.
“The energy-converting material of a solar panel is a silicon crystal. This silicon crystal is grown artificially. Ten years ago, Germany already had the capacity to grow a silicon crystal. In a situation of competition, it was no longer possible to stay at the same price level with Chinese manufacturers,” Meesak said.
The increase in transport costs and delivery difficulties caused by the pandemic have also significantly increased the panels’ cost.
“While two years ago there was a trend in which panels became cheaper and cheaper due to improved production technologies, now panel prices have returned to the level of 3-5 years ago,” he said.
At the same time, Chinese factories are also dependent on Europe. Most of the equipment for producing solar panels is made in Europe.
“Including equipment for growing crystals, which in turn are produced by German companies. A solar panel plant is not some rocket science. It would be just as successful to invest within the EU, build factories in the EU and produce here,” Meesak said.
According to him, the plants need state assistance due to the high price of electricity. In Estonia, Estiko Grupp is building a 106 ha solar park near Tartu. The head of the company’s energy sector, Ain Tammwere, says other panel manufacturers can be found in Europe. They can also compete with Chinese prices.
“When we were purchasing our panels, there was not much difference between the Chinese and European panels. Although we looked at the plant in Slovenia. The question is how much you can trust this product,” Tammvere said.
He explained that Chinese manufacturers have more experience, so they can be confident in the reliability of the panels. However, Tammwere also stated that the security of supply is threatened by the consolidation of production chains in China.