The world’s solar industry can play a critical role in post-COVID-19 recovery, creating growth, jobs and a greener future

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The social and economic disruption brought about by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are having serious impacts on the solar PV industry globally – both in terms of day-to-day operations and investments – but the sector stands ready to resume its long-term growth trend and contribute to a green economic recovery that protects the climate, creates jobs and ensures inclusive growth.

The condition of the PV industry today and the outlook for how to move forward from the current challenging situation was discussed in a webinar convened today by the Global Solar Council. The event was an occasion to get an update from important regions, provided by the Asian Photovoltaic Industry Association (APVIA), SolarPower Europe and ITALIA SOLARE. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) presented its recently published Global Renewables Outlook, highlighting the role of solar PV and other clean technologies in the profound shift towards renewables in the global energy system that is required to reach the objectives of the UN SDG Agenda 2030 and of the Paris Climate Agreement by 2050.

Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA, commented: “COVID-19 recovery packages can put the world on a path towards sustainable growth and prosperity. The Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Agenda present a medium-term vision for a more resilient and inclusive future that can serve as a framework for the national stimulus measures needed today. IRENA’s Global Renewables Outlook shows that by placing the ongoing energy transition—and the increasing role of solar energy—at the heart of the recovery, we can grow the world economy, create millions of jobs, and improve the lives of people everywhere.”

Gianni Chianetta, Chairman of the Global Solar Council, stated: “It is clear that PV companies are suffering heavily at the moment from the severe disruption to economic activity in many countries around the world and that many of the problems are related to the lockdowns many of us are living with. It’s imperative that solar businesses can resume operations as quickly as the health situation permits but also that special attention is given to stimulating investment in clean, renewable sources of energy in our new normal, raising our ambitions for the climate so this crisis can give rise to a new, green economy.”

Professor Sulaiman Shaari, Secretary General of the Asian Photovoltaic Industry Association (APVIA), said: “Asia is very unique in the sense that the major PV technology producers and users are from Asia itself. Looking from this angle, the PV industry can move the business again at the global, regional and national levels. Simply put, in the modern perspective, the world is one big inter-linking economic dome. Thus, the industry must be played in a healthy way to create a net positive movement. A clear way forward is to readjust our inter-regional hurdles, whilst at the same time dress-down intra-regional facades. Meanwhile, we each work at our national levels: more accommodative policies; recuperative financial courses; revised business-promoting environments; and new-norms of working mechanics in the field. Everyone is involved and no-one must be left behind.”

Aristotelis Chantavas, President of SolarPower Europe, said in the webinar: “This crisis will of course have an impact on economies, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity to focus on climate change and accelerate the decisions towards the energy transition. As an association we are calling for support in providing access to financing for the solar industry, in ensuring a favorable ecosystem for new solar projects, in boosting the deployment of large-scale projects addressing permitting barriers and in unlocking the job-creation potential of renewables in Europe, by boosting demand for small-scale PV.”

Paolo Rocco Viscontini, President of ITALIA SOLARE, commented: “Italy is suffering heavily from the effects caused by the Covid-19 epidemic and in the PV sector we risk seeing many companies, mainly small and medium in size, going bankrupt. ITALIA SOLARE is pushing the government to speed up simplification processes and complete revisions to energy market regulations so as to create the conditions for an effective recovery. The tragedy of the epidemic can and will be converted into an opportunity to improve our lives, spurring us to be finally effective against climate change and pollution: that’s possible only starting from a real PV deployment. PV can be the driver for a global recovery in Italy and beyond.”

The Global Solar Council this month surveyed several hundred solar businesses in over 60 countries worldwide to hear how they are being impacted by the COVID-19 emergency and get their input on how governments and institutions can respond and support the PV sector.

The survey monitored the serious repercussions the current situation is having on the solar industry at a global level, driven above all by lockdowns and restrictions on work and travel in many countries which are hampering day-to-day operations. The Global Solar Council found that 72.1% of respondents reported a decline in orders compared to the pre-emergency period with 6 in 10 of these saying orders are down by up to 50%, 3 in 10 reporting a decline of 50%-90% and 1 in 10 stating that orders have been virtually wiped out. Looking ahead to the next four months, 79.5% of all respondents expect orders to decline, with half of these preparing for a decline of 40% or more.

Solar businesses are also facing disruptions to the purchase of goods and services, with 74.9% of respondents saying they have already had difficulties in their supplies and 71.4% expecting problems in the coming four months.

In terms of the impact on daily operations, more than half of respondents (57%) cited lockdowns and related restrictions on work and movement as the main disruption to their activities. Just over a third (37%) said they had problems with getting orders, suffering from lower client demand and struggled to finalise contracts. About a fifth of businesses say they have troubles with their supply chain and logistical issues.

The role of governments and institutions in this difficult context is critical and solar PV businesses are eager to see a range of policy responses to help them get back to work first of all and resume operational activities and installations as quickly and smoothly as possible but also in the longer term to sustain the solar sector with a view to accelerating the shift to renewables and decarbonisation of economies. They are particularly in favour of tax relief – or increased relief – for solar PV installations but also dedicated state financing, non-refundable loans and tax credits for companies, and many respondents called for reduced bureaucracy and administrative burdens to speed investments.

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