EPJ PV Highlight - Communication on the potential of applied PV in the European Union: Rooftops, reservoirs, roads (R3)

Communication on the potential of applied PV in the European Union: Rooftops, reservoirs, roads (R3)

‘Communication on the potential of applied PV in the European Union: Rooftops, reservoirs, roads (R3)’ is a study conducted by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) that aims to assess the technical capacity potential of these three photovoltaic (PV) applications. The results were published recently in EPJ Photovoltaics.
Renewable energy technologies, like solar panels, are important for meeting the increasing demand for electricity and helping to combat climate change. The European Union (EU) has set ambitious targets for PV installation, but there are challenges to overcome, including competition for land and potential environmental drawbacks.
Indeed, the EU Solar Energy Strategy has outlined solid plans for PV installation, aiming for 385 GWDC (320 GWAC) by 2025 and 720 GWDC (600 GWAC) by 2030. While striving to meet these targets, it is crucial to ensure that the adoption of renewable energy sources does not adversely affect the environment and biodiversity, in accordance with EU policies on nature and wildlife conservation.

Where can we install solar panels?
The use of rooftop solar panels, as well as more innovative technologies like floating PV on water reservoirs or vertical solar panels across the existing transport network (roads & rails), can help address these challenges while producing a lot of energy. By making use of the existing infrastructure, without occupying additional land, such systems not only contribute to local energy production and decentralisation, they also reduce transmission losses and improve energy system resilience.
The study presents a geospatial approach to assess the technical capacity potential (i.e. an estimate of the total achievable generation capacity under generation given system performance, topographic, environmental and land use constraints) of these PV applications, collectively referred to as R3 (rooftops, reservoirs, roads). It then estimates their energy yield by running calculations through the JRC’s in-house Photovoltaic Geographical Information System (PVGIS) tool.
The study found that these methods could feasibly generate a large amount of electricity, potentially exceeding the EU's solar energy targets without significant additional environmental or biodiversity impacts. Some countries could even produce more electricity than their present consumption by using these approaches. Additionally, harnessing power from these solar systems could assist in diminishing the carbon footprint of nations, especially those with high carbon intensities.

What is the potential electricity generation?
The results point to a total technical installed capacity potential of 1,120 GWp (933 GWAC), with a corresponding production of 1 208 TWh/yr, representing 48% of the EU’s 2022 electricity consumption. The total installed capacity of solar PV could reach 1 331 GWp, six times more than the current 2022 installed capacity of 211 GWp. The cumulative total potential of electricity generation is equal to 1 208 TWh/yr, representing 48% of the total electricity consumption in 2022 (2 495 TWh/yr).
This capacity not only could reach the EU Solar Energy 2030 targets, but it could easily surpass them.
Breaking down the numbers per PV application, rooftop PV application contributes the most, with 560 GWDC (466 GWAC) of technical installed capacity and 680 TWh/yr of potential electricity generation. The contribution of vertical bifacial PV installations along roads and railways follows, with a potential contribution of 403 GWDC (336 GWAC), delivering 391 TWh/yr. As for FPV, its deployment on 337 selected hydropower reservoirs (with electricity or water supply as their primary use) could deliver 157 GWp (131 GWAC) capacity and 137 TWh/yr electricity.

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