Solar power generation averted Europe's heat crisis

The installation of more solar panels played a leading role in addressing the increased electricity and cooling demand during heatwaves.
Shubhangi Dua
Picon I Solar PV Park, a 50MW solar photovoltaic power project
Picon I Solar PV Park, a 50MW solar photovoltaic power project

OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images 

In June, surpassing a global temperature threshold directly impacted southern European nations, triggering scorching heatwaves that brought about severe consequences, including wildfires and droughts leading to deaths.

However, solar power production in southern Europe played a crucial role in mitigating the crisis to some extent. 

Solar power compensated for the energy shortage amid the heatwaves of past weeks, which saw record-breaking temperatures and an unparalleled surge in air conditioning demand, Reuters reported.

Additionally, solar power is gained best during summer as the sun’s radiation is strongest around the hottest part of the day. The energy generation met the electricity demand for cooling and contributed to energy security.

Solar aiding Spain

Alluding to the extreme heat situation in Spain, Kristian Ruby, secretary general of the electricity industry group Eurelectric, stated: “The very significant growth in solar basically compensates for the peaks that are caused by air conditioning.”

According to Reuters, Spain and Greece are among the countries that have installed many more solar panels in the face of record-high energy prices last year and the quest for increased energy security linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Spain and Greece are also among the worst affected regions in Europe due to climate change. EU Copernicus documented that the Land Surface Temperature (LST) in some Extremadura (Spain) areas exceeded 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) on July 11, 2023. 

Red Electrica, a Spanish electricity grid operator, said Spain set a new record by installing 4.5 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity last year. 

This resulted in a higher solar energy output in July – a month renowned for its abundant sunshine. The energy output surpassed any previous month on record.

Furthermore, Reuters noted, “data from Ember showed solar provided almost 24 percent of Spain's electricity in July this year, up from 16 percent in July 2022.”

Sicily solar output

Past experiences in Sicily have shown that solar covered the peak in cooling demand during soaring temperatures on July 24, making up to nearly half of the excess demand – 1.3 GW, according to Refinitiv data. Sicilian solar production more than doubled last month compared to July 2022.

Refinitiv power analyst Nathalie Gerl said the system stability impact would have been much worse without the additional solar support.

However, solar cannot hold grids under severe strain, but higher solar output helped satisfy demand in both Sicily and Greece.

Powering Greece

In Greece, solar photovoltaics covered 3.5GW of the total 10.35 during peak demand on July 24, the IPTO grid operator said.

It has also been observed that another factor contributed to keeping Europe’s energy systems running this summer – overall power demand has been relatively low.

Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at think tank Bruegel stated, “Our energy systems are indeed not designed to cope with such situations.”

While wildfires in Greece destroyed an area larger than London in July, Greek Civil Protection and Climate Crisis Minister Vassilis Kikilias announced on August 1 that a total of 1,470 wildfires swept through the country in July, searing nearly 190,200 hectares.

A survey by the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) uncovered that the fires in Greece unleashed a megaton (one million tonnes) of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, Euronews reported. 

Industry associations, including SolarPower Europe, composed a letter last week to the European Commission, pushing for swifter investments in energy grids and the advancement of projects that combine solar energy with storage solutions. 

Such initiatives are essential to ensure solar power expands rapidly enough to achieve climate change targets effectively.

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