Photovoltaic Solar Energy Photovoltaic Solar Energy

What is Photovoltaic Solar Energy?

Photovoltaic solar energy (PV) is the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity. It directly exploits our largest renewable energy source. 

PV boasts a broad range of technologies. These can be broadly classified as "commercial", i.e. being used in mass production, "emerging" i.e., small production volumes and "novel", i.e. concept or early laboratory stage.  Commercial technologies include wafer-based crystalline silicon PV, as well as the thin-film technologies of copper indium/gallium disulfide/diselenide (CIGS), cadmium telluride (CdTe), thin-film silicon PV (amorphous and microcrystalline silicon) and high concentrating photovoltaics (multijunction technology using III-V semiconductors, e.g., GaAs and InGaP). Some organic and dye-sensitized solar PV devices have been commercialised up to now, but for the most part these remain in the novel and emerging categories.

Mono- and multicrystalline silicon wafer based photovoltaics are however currently the dominant technology on the market, with a 2015 share of over 90%. Manufacturing is principally by Asian producers. JRC estimates that EU module production capacity is currently at approximately 2 GW. Although a part of this is made up of smaller producers (typically < 100 MW) with niche products (including BIPV), there nevertheless remain some significant European players in PV manufacturing. On the other hand it is important to remember that the PV industry is more than just cell and module manufacturing. Indeed PV modules make up only 50% of the capital cost of utility scale systems, and less for residential systems. To grasp the whole picture one has to look at the full value chain, from raw materials right through to installation, operation and recycling.

The JRC produces regular updates on market and technology issues [Jaeger Waldau, 2016; Huld et al.2014; Ossenbrink et al., 2015; Corsatea et al., 2015]. Further information on photovoltaic solar energy can be found at the Strategic Energy Technologies Information System (SETIS):

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy also publishes an excellent technology review that is updated every six months [Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy & PSE AG, 2015].

Technology facts

  • Solar is our biggest and most widely available RE resource
  • Energy conversion efficiency currently ranges about 14% to over 20% for more sophisticated designs. These values are expected to increase by 20% by 2020.
  • Global solar cell production for 2015 was in the range 56 to 61 GW, an increase of about 20% on 2014. A similar increase is expected for 2016.
  • The EU installed about 6.2GW of PV in 2015 and a modest increase to about 8 GW is possible for 2016.
  • In February 2016 the average price of a residential system was 1.25 €/Wp, including installation but without tax, administration and connection charges. However quotes vary from 1.0 to 2.6 EUR/Wp.
  • PV is a significant employer, providing about 134,000 jobs in the EU in 2013. The majority of these are local, related to operating and installing PV electricity systems.
  • PV has potential for integration into the urban environment (NZEBs). Built-up areas  account for almost three quarters (72.4 %) of the European Union's population and 70% of the total primary energy demand.



A. Jaeger Waldau, Snapshot of Photovoltaics 2016, JRC 100742, 2016

T. Huld et al., Cost maps for unsubsidised PV electricity, JRC 91937, 2014

H. Ossenbrink, A. Jäger Waldau, N. Taylor, I. Pinedo Pascua , S. Szabó, Perspectives on Large-Scale Manufacturing of PV in Europe, June 2015, JRC 94724.

Corsatea, T., Fiorini, A., Georgakaki, A., & Lepsa, B., 2015, Capacity Mapping: R & D investment in SET-Plan technologies Reference year 2011 (No. JRC 95364/EUR 27184 EN). JRC Science and Policy Reports. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Retrieved from

Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy & PSE AG, Photovoltaics Report, November 2015,


What are the barriers and needs of photovoltaic solar energy?

If Europe is to achieve its climate goals within the European Energy Union a better harmonization of the conditions for PV deployment will be required. This is also an opportunity for the EU to take advantage of being the most experienced PV region in the world and:

  • develop its leadership in grid integration
  • take full advantage of the need for (Near) Zero Energy Buildings
  • realise the potential of smart grid technologies, including increased self-consumption with applications such as heat pumps, as well as local and distributed storage options.
  • design new approaches in the electricity market which allow the economic integration of PV
  • look ahead to operation time of PV plants beyond the typical financing period of 20 years, when production costs can drop dramatically
  • become a global player in project development and ownership
  • spread administrative best practices across Europe

The EU has a good position in R&D, but it needs now to compete at global level as other are developing rapidly. The 2014 SET-Plan integrated road-map lists three sets of priorities:

Advanced Research

  • Novel PV technologies for low costs and/or high efficiencies
  • Enhanced PV conversion efficiencies and lifetimes
  • Cost reduction through lower materials consumption and use of low-cost materials
  • Reduction of LCoE by enhanced PV system energy yield and lifetime

Industrial Research and Demonstration

  • Pilot production lines
  • Demonstration of new PV solutions
  • Making PV mainstream source of power
  • Industrial RTD for and demonstration of higher Performance Ratios
  • Long-Term reliability of PV modules and systems
  • Building-Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV)

Innovation and Market Uptake

  • Financing and risk of large-scale manufacturing
  • Implementing regulatory, financial and societal solutions for large-scale, market-based exploitation of PV investments
  • Improved yield assessment for reduction of risk
  • Market uptake of new PV products
  • Standards and European PV data collection
  • Training and education

What are industry and the EU doing about photovoltaic solar electricity?

The SET-Plan document "Declaration on Strategic Targets in the context of an Initiative for Global Leadership in Photovoltaics" records the agreement reached between representatives of the European Commission services, representatives of the EU Member States, Iceland, Norway, Turkey and Switzerland,(i.e. the SET-Plan Steering Group) and representatives of the SET-Plan stakeholders most directly involved in PV, on the implementation of the actions contained in the SET-Plan Communication, and specifically the strategic targets for the priority "Number 1 in renewable energy" for what concerns PV energy

Given strong growth prospects for the sector, several EU research consortia are actively prompting plans and seeking funding for such developments, for both crystalline silicon and thin film technologies. Some considerations include:

  • PV manufacturing is transforming into a mass-producing industry with its sights on multi-GW production sites. This development is linked to increasing industry consolidation, which presents a risk and an opportunity at the same time. For small and medium companies to survive the price pressure of the very competitive commodity mass market and offset the economies of scale enjoyed by bigger competitors, they will need to develop products with high added value or tailor-made solutions. The alternative is to offer technologically more advanced and cheaper solar cell concepts.
  • For a large-scale manufacturing initiative to be economically viable and to have impact on the global market it would need to aim for a capacity of several GW. This reflects the importance of economies of scale and also having a production volume sufficient to impact an annual EU market of at least 6 GW and a global market of 50 GW. It would need to meet a short-term module cost price target of below EUR 0.40/W and have a credible plan for further reduction. This reflects the reality that product differentiation is based primarily on price, and is expected to continue to be so in the medium term. Finally it is essential to involve partners with the expertise to successfully operate GW fabs. PV technology expertise alone is not sufficient.

To best mobilize EU resources, such an initiative should involve several European countries and regions and include a range of technologies and product forms.

What is the current and future potential place of photovoltaic energy in the energy system?

In the last 10 years PV has become a significant player in energy supply and a truly global industry, characterised by rapid innovation and increasing cost-competitiveness.

In 2015 approximately 52 GW of PV was installed globally, giving a cumulative installed capacity of about 235 GW. Of this the EU currently has a cumulative capacity of about 94 GW. This already exceeds the 2020 target of 84.4 GWp set 5 years ago by the EU Member States in their National Renewable Energy Action Plans. However the level of deployment varies widely: PV has an electricity share of almost 8% in some countries, between 1% and 2% in many others, but in some none at all.

Looking to the future, PV is uniquely positioned to support the energy transition implicit in the COP-21 commitments on climate change mitigation of December 2015. Indeed According to investment analysts and industry prognoses, PV will continue to grow at high rates. The IEA's hiRen scenario foresees 1721 GW globally by 2030 [IEA, 2014].


IEA International Energy Agency, Technology Roadmap – Solar Photovoltaic Energy, 2014 edition, 55 pages


Who is/should be involved in photovoltaic solar energy?

Europe has traditionally been a leader in R&D on PV across the whole value chain. As an example Fig. 1 shows the distribution of authors of scientific papers on crystalline silicon for 2011-2014. The three well-known regional centre of excellence are evident: Baden Württemberg and Saxony in Germany and, the Benelux. In contrast for thin film the distribution is much broader, with substantial activity in France, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK, in addition to that in the Benelux and Germany. For other technologies an even broader range of activity is seen.

At the regional level, several regions have included solar and/or photovoltaics as a policy priority under the capability of 'Energy Production & Distribution' (Table 1).

Figure 1:  Geographical distribution of authors of PV research publications on crystalline silicon in the period 2011-2014 from the Scopus database.  Author locations are shown as red points, with the size of the point reflecting the number of papers. The red lines indicate links between co-authors.

Table 1. List of European regions identifying solar and/or photovoltaics as an energy policy priority for smart specialisation [“Eye@RIS3,” 2016]

Region/ Country



Target Market


Energy: renewable forms of energy, solar energy, Solar-thermal technology Solar Photovoltaic, Technologies for Solar Heating and Cooling, energy storage and transfer

Energy production & distribution

Energy production & distribution


Sustainable economy & energy (energy research - energy storage, electricity grids, photovoltaic construction & energy efficient cities ……..

Energy production & distribution

Manufacturing & industry


Power engineering (Solar energy: manufacturing of PV modules, supply industry & certification, grid integration & energy storage applications, power plants and integration into buildings ……

Energy production & distribution

Energy production & distribution


Energy. Bioenergy, Wind energy, Gas, Storage technology, Photovoltaics, Smart grids

Energy production & distribution

Energy production & distribution


Solar energy

Manufacturing & industry

Energy production & distribution


……..  Solar energy equipment and technologies for its use for the production of electricity, heat and cooling

Energy production & distribution

Energy production & distribution


Particular strength in the production of electricity through wind, hydro and photovoltaic sources of renewable energy

Energy production & distribution

Energy production & distribution


…. renewable energy sources: geothermal resources, biomass/biogas, biodiesel, mini hydropower, wind turbines, solar energy)

Energy production & distribution

Water supply, sewerage, waste management & remediation activities

Bratislavský kraj

New materials in electrotechnics, photovoltaic, sensors

Manufacturing & industry

Manufacturing & industry


Eye@RIS3. (March 2016). Retrieved from


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