Latitude Media: European Solar Manufacturers Struggle to Survive

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June 10, 2024
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3 min read
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Solar and energy storage professionals around the world are packing their bags this week. And some may be on the road for a lengthy stretch.

China’s biggest solar and energy storage event, the SNEC PV+ Conference and Exhibition will take place in Shanghai this week, June 13 to 15. The smarter E Europe into Munich is next week, June 18 to 21. And some members of the scientific community will already be at the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Seattle, June 9 to 14. 

I imagine there aren't many people who will be attending all three events, with the exception of ISC Konstanz’s tireless Radovan Kopecek – whose passion for back-contact PV cells is rivalled only by his willingness to traverse the globe to attend solar events. 

As Kopecek himself observes, an important discussion at all three events will be PV manufacturing – and in particularly attempts to enhance the geographic diversification of solar wafer, cell, and module production. But there will be very different perspectives and experiences being shared in the three locations.

Source: U.S. Solar Market Insight Q2 2024

The Chinese solar manufacturing segment is undoubtably under pressure, with low or non-existent margins squeezing manufacturers at the same time as a wholesale switch from p-to n-type technology is making capital investment a necessity. The US PV production segment has come off the initial high of the Inflation Reduction Act, however many projects are continuing to move forward. 

While in Europe, things look grim. 

It will be intriguing to see how many European solar manufacturers will be putting on a brave face and exhibiting in Munich at The smarter E this year. The event was formerly known as Intersolar Europe, and past events were marked by the bankruptcies of European solar manufacturers. 

Perhaps most memorable was in 2017, when German PV manufacturing pioneer SolarWorld abruptly pulled out of the show, having descended into bankruptcy the month prior. The prominent booth position that the company had occupied in previous years, at the entrance of the A1 hall, lay empty – sparking the photo below. 


The empty space that was the SolarWorld booth, at Intersolar 2017. Looking a little like we were spoiling for a fight, myself and former Greentech Media analyst Ben Attia – who is now an energy and climate lead researcher at BlackRock.

Photo credit: pv magazine

European solar cell and module makers face similarly difficult market conditions in 2024. Basement-low prices, uneven demand, and a lack of coherent government support mechanisms across the European Union has resulted in a series of factory closures and proposed facilities in a semi-permanent limbo. 

I tackled this issue last month for Latitude Media, and there have been few signs that things are improving. The poor showing of the Green parties in the recent European Union elections give few reasons for hoping for an improvement in prospects in the near future. 

Thanks to Edurne Zoco from S&P Global and Jan-Michael Hess from Ecosummit for sharing their expertise on the story.

Climate Copy will be attending The smarter E next week. We’re teaming up with Australian clean energy communications agency Positive Good, to provide service across both marketplaces. There’s no doubt we’ll be discussing the future of European PV manufacturing, and reporting on any green shoots that appear. 

Read the full piece on Latitude Media here.

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