Escalating temperatures have strained Europe’s energy systems, yet the surge in solar power generation, particularly in southern Europe, has emerged as a crucial buffer against energy shortages during recent heatwaves.
The considerable uptick in solar energy production has played a pivotal role in alleviating energy deficits amid unprecedented demands for cooling due to record-breaking temperatures.
How Solar Power Helped Deal with the Heat
Southern Europe, including Spain and Greece, has seen a substantial surge in solar panel installations, driven by factors like soaring energy prices in the previous year and the pursuit of enhanced energy security.
Spain, for instance, added a record-breaking 4.5 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity last year, culminating in July of this year witnessing higher solar energy output than any previous month. Solar energy accounted for nearly 24% of Spain’s electricity in July 2023, compared to 16% in July 2022, as per Ember data.
In instances of soaring temperatures and heightened cooling needs, solar power has effectively covered substantial portions of the increased demand. For example, during a peak power demand day in Sicily on July 24th, almost half of the excess demand was met by solar energy, significantly contributing to system stability.
However, it is important to note that solar power alone cannot single-handedly ensure grid stability under severe duress.
Local challenges such as power and water supply cuts due to extreme heat, as experienced in Catania, and grid damage caused by wildfires in Athens, highlight the limitations of solar energy when faced with such extreme conditions.
Even in regions with cooler climates and less sunshine, such as Belgium, solar energy has shown its prowess by covering over 100% of the additional energy required during midday surges in power demand.
In the pursuit of a resilient energy landscape, the surge in solar power adoption, especially in response to surging temperatures and cooling demands, underscores its role as a critical component in balancing energy systems and meeting peak demands.
Expect the Worse, According to Scientists
Climate scientists are warning that the worst impacts of climate change are yet to come, with more frequent and severe heat waves expected in the coming years. The recent heatwaves experienced in southern Europe are seen as a sign of what’s to come, putting additional strain on the region’s energy infrastructure.
The current energy systems in place are ill-equipped to handle the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like heat waves. Experts are pointing out that these events can disrupt energy generation from various sources, such as hydropower, nuclear power, and even the transport of fuel.
Last year, heat and drought affected hydropower generation, river-based fuel transport, and the operation of nuclear power plants due to limited cooling capacity.
In response to these challenges, 19 associations, including SolarPower Europe and other industry groups, have addressed the European Commission, advocating for swift investments in energy grids and the promotion of projects that combine solar energy with energy storage. The aim is to ensure that solar power capacity expands rapidly enough to align with climate change goals.
The letter emphasizes the urgent need to accelerate the growth of solar energy deployment to unprecedented levels in order to mitigate energy waste and address the pressing energy and climate crises.