As lockdown measures imposed to flatten the COVID-19 curve begin to ease across Europe, Q CELLS – a renowned total energy solutions provider in solar, energy storage, downstream project business and energy retail – has recognized that many leading European markets have exhibited encouraging resilience during the pandemic, with some hoping to return to ‘business as usual’ a lot sooner than initially feared.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding lockdown measures having a detrimental effect on European economies, a pan-European recession looks inevitable. Some industries, however, have shown a good deal of resilience in the face of these unprecedented challenges. In a number of the largest solar markets by volume in Europe, there are already positive indications that a recovery in business activity is already underway. Independent analyst Wood Mackenzie has, in its latest Global Supply Quarterly Report Q2 2020, reduced its forecast for solar demand in Europe by around 19% this year, with 2020 installations expected to reach 16 GW. This projection means that the impact of Coronavirus will be approximately 3.8 GW of lost demand. While nothing to be celebrated, the damage caused by Coronavirus may well be relatively minor compared to other economic sectors and only temporary, with a potential return to growth in 2021.
State of the Nations
In Italy, arguably the country hardest hit by the pandemic, Q CELLS can reveal that the mood in the solar sector is positive, thanks to the easing of the lockdown measures and the fact that demand within the utility and C&I solar segments remained strong throughout the past few months, reaching triple-MW figures. Installation volumes have of course fallen during this time, but Marco Dona, Head of Sales Italy for Q CELLS, believes that there is a strong urge to make up for lost time. He expects a surge in large-scale solar plant development as soon as restrictions in Italy are lifted.
In the UK, another country hit hard by the pandemic, the message is similar: the setback was temporary, and the resolve to recover time and business lost is strong. Sean Collier, Head of Sales for UK, Ireland and Scandinavia for Q CELLS, stresses that as lockdown measures gradually relax, postponed orders will be completed and a rush of installations could be witnessed in late summer. “My overall view is that 2020 remains on course to be a positive year for UK solar,” Collier said.
In Scandinavia, Sweden’s solar sector has enjoyed a strong first quarter, but the impact of COVID-19 will see a scaling back of installation forecasts for May and June, with normal trading levels expected to return in July, provided current government guidelines proceed. The situation is similar in Poland, where a deep COVID-19 crisis appears to have been largely avoided and a return to business-as-usual practice is not far off.
In the Netherlands, a survey by Dutch New Energy (DNE) Research found that more than 40% of manufacturers and wholesalers, and 70% of installers, noted a decrease in market demand starting in March. Through to June, the expectation is for a 35% drop in installations, according to the report – caused largely by problems related to supply of components. These delays could jeopardise those projects that must be completed within a set timeframe in order to meet SDE+ subsidy regulations. However, Maarten Ribbens, Head of Sales for Benelux at Q CELLS, believes that the SDE+ deadline will be extended to enable these projects to still qualify for the subsidy.
Positivity at a time of uncertainty
In Germany, the months of March and April were strong from a solar sales perspective, with Q CELLS’ Head of DACH Sales, Sven Stoffers, confirming that the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has so far been very minor. “The good work and the cooperation from the sides of the installers and the module manufacturers in early 2020 has equipped the solar market in Germany with the ability to ease through pandemic without any significant damage so far. We might see an impact later this year due to more careful investment decisions at the end customer level, but for now we see that the German market has been almost unaffected,” Stoffers said. A larger threat to German solar growth remains the so-called ’52 GW cap’ on installations. Germany’s cumulative capacity is expected to top that figure in summer, after which time the government will, as policy currently stands, halt all incentives for installations below 750 kWp. This would lead to a dramatic downturn in installations. Q CELLS is joined by many other industry players in appealing to the government to extend this cap.
There is a similar picture of positivity in Iberia, where the solar markets of Spain and Portugal have navigated the crisis period with minimal disruption. “Construction on solar PV plants ceased for around 15 days during the Easter period,” revealed Eduardo de la Hera, Head of Sales for Spain and Portugal at Q CELLS. “A lower demand for electricity has seen power prices fall, but they will soon return to previous values while, at the same time, financing for PV projects continues to close, with more investors seeing PV as a safe refuge.” In the residential sector, not even the special measures imposed during lockdown have dampened growth in rooftop PV in Spain, de la Hera added. “The situation is even better in Portugal, where the lockdown applied was much lighter, and construction activity has continued unabated.”
Maengyoon Kim, Head of EU Sales for Q CELLS, added: “We have witnessed an enormous commitment and ‘can-do’ attitude within the solar industry, even during the most critical phase of the lockdown measures. As Q CELLS, we have carried out our share in reliably serving the market with state of the art solar energy solutions throughout this first phase of the pandemic. As careful easing of restrictions is rolled out across the continent, we see a strong desire in the industry to make up for lost time. We see this in the fact that while installation rates obviously slowed right down, order volumes and general business activity remained at a high level throughout.
“The challenges that lie ahead are great and unknown, but Q CELLS likes to focus on the huge opportunity and responsibility that lies in the way as societies emerge from the lockdown and the shape energy consumption after Covid-19. We strongly call for determined decisions on EU level and in each member state to promote renewable energy in the reconstruction of the economy. Solar clearly is one of the leading solutions for a new age of renewable energy. Given just how resilient, flexible, robust and forward-thinking the solar industry has proved to be in the past weeks, Q CELLS is very confident that it stands ready to drive this change towards a new, cleaner, greener and more decentralized energy landscape.”
About Q CELLS
Q CELLS is one of the world’s largest and most recognized photovoltaic manufacturers for its high-performance, high-quality solar cells and modules. It is headquartered in Seoul, South Korea (Global Executive HQ) and Thalheim, Germany (Technology & Innovation HQ) with its diverse international manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Malaysia, China, and South Korea. Q CELLS offers the full spectrum of photovoltaic products, applications and solutions, from cells and modules to kits to systems to large-scale solar power plants. Through its growing global business network spanning Europe, North America, Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East, Q CELLS provides excellent services and long-term partnerships to its customers in the utility, commercial, governmental and residential markets. For more information, visit: http://www.q-cells.com.