Solar power steps up as Europe battles heatwave and energy crises
As record-breaking temperatures sweep across Europe, triggering unprecedented demand for air conditioning, solar power is proving a key ally in staving off energy shortages. The recent proliferation of solar power generation in Southern Europe has come to the forefront in this battle against the heat.
Solar energy has a distinct advantage when it comes to dealing with the summer heat. As the sun’s radiation peaks during the hottest parts of the day, it aligns perfectly with the increased demand for electricity for cooling systems. “The substantial growth in solar essentially balances the spikes caused by air conditioning,” notes Kristian Ruby, Secretary General of Eurelectric, reflecting on the situation in Spain.
Countries like Spain and Greece, buffeted by soaring energy prices last year and motivated by the pursuit of enhanced energy security, have aggressively ramped up their solar panel installations. Reuters reports that Spain set a new benchmark in 2022 by adding a staggering 4.5 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity, resulting in a record-breaking solar energy output in July this year. Data from Ember reveals that solar power accounted for almost 24% of Spain’s electricity in July.
In July, when Sicily experienced a surge in power demand due to scorching temperatures and increased cooling needs, almost half of the excess demand was met by solar power. The island’s solar production for the month was more than double that of July 2022. Refinitiv power analyst Nathalie Gerl asserts, “Without the additional solar, the system stability impact would have been much worse.”
Solar power, however, is not a panacea for grid instability under severe stress. Heat-induced power and water supply disruptions in Catania, located beneath Mount Etna in eastern Sicily, demonstrate this reality. Simultaneously, in Athens, wildfires caused damage to sections of the electricity grid. Nevertheless, an upsurge in solar output helped meet demand in both countries.
Greece’s solar photovoltaics stepped up during the country’s peak power demand this year in July, supplying 3.5GW out of the total 10.35GW demand, according to grid operator IPTO. Interestingly, even in cooler and less sunny western countries like Belgium, solar energy is exceeding midday spikes in power demand.