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Spain takes center stage as Europe's solar market soars

Installations of solar power plants in the EU grew at the highest rate since 2010 this year, with a revived Spanish market and higher renewables targets across the EU set to drive record activity over the coming years.

Solar photovoltaic, or PV, capacity grew by 16.7 GW in 2019, according to preliminary data. Additions were 104% higher than in 2018, making this the strongest year for year-over-year growth in almost a decade.

"We have entered a new era of solar growth," said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe, the industry association that collected the data. "Solar in the European Union is thriving."

The group said it expects solar PV installations to rise by more than 90 GW over the next five years under its medium forecast scenario, with developers increasing annual additions at a steady clip.

Although most EU countries installed more solar capacity than in the year before, Spain has emerged as the largest single market in the EU in 2019, adding an estimated 4.7 GW of new power plants. A promising policy framework has helped to revive the industry there after retroactive subsidy cuts had caused a developer exodus in the years after the financial crisis.

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Overall, SolarPower Europe said cost declines for solar technology are the main driver for higher activity. The group said the levelized cost of energy for a solar project in Finland is now around €50/MWh, while Spanish developers can produce for around €30/MWh.

A 2020 deadline for national renewable targets also helped spur an uptick in activity and the industry expects a bloc-wide goal to make 32% of electricity production renewable by 2030 to keep spurring growth.

"Many national governments are increasingly looking to low-cost solar to meet their targets," said Aurélie Beauvais, SolarPower Europe's policy director.

After Spain, Germany installed the most solar capacity, with 4 GW coming online during 2019. Developers have started work on the first subsidy-free projects there and tenders in the country continue to be oversubscribed, even as wind developers struggle.

The Netherlands and France installed 2.5 GW and 1.1 GW, respectively, and Poland will have nearly quadrupled its installed capacity to 784 MW in 2019. In total, the EU's five largest solar markets were responsible for more than three quarters of the region's installed capacity in 2019, SolarPower Europe said.

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