In April 2022, SHIP2FAIR submitted input during the public consultation on EU solar energy strategy. In line with the project’s purpose, the recommendations centred around advocating on behalf of the solar thermal heat industry (read more about SHIP2FAIR’s input here). On May 18th, the EU Solar Strategy Communication was made public. Incorporating feedback from the public consultation, the European Commission set the path for reduced dependence on fossil fuels, highlighting solar energy as the “kingpin” of the REPowerEU’s energy transformation plan and noting that energy demand covered by solar heat and geothermal should “at least triple” by 2030.

Under REPowerEU and the EU Solar Energy Strategy, the EU has proposed to dramatically accelerate the deployment of renewable energy, particularly solar technologies including solar heat which is “particularly suitable” for meeting today’s energy challenges. The plan includes an increased target for renewables (45%), a Solar Rooftop Initiative, shortened and simplified permitting procedures, and a large-scale skills partnership under the Pact for Skills. Other new provisions include digitalisation investments (i.e. smart grids) to enable higher system performance and efficient integration of decentralized solar installations in distribution networks. All efforts as part of the plan are centred around the need to triple the current level of heat generation capacity from solar thermal by 2030, thereby surpassing 110 GWth of solar heat in Europe.

Digitalisation is an important aspect of REPowerEU. Devices such as batteries and heat pumps can only contribute to the integration of solar electricity into the energy system if they can effectively communicate with each other and with solar energy systems. This interoperability can be facilitated through measures such as standardisation, or open-source solutions for digital connectivity. The EU Solar Energy Strategy recognizes the need to “foster a level playing field for energy solutions and services, while putting the user in control of data collection and sharing to third-party service providers.” It therefore encourages research and innovation projects to jointly develop interoperability and data sharing solutions. It also references the upcoming Digitalisation of Energy Action Plan which will support interoperability for a wide range of energy consuming, producing and storage devices.

The main challenge is to quickly deploy available solutions that can provide renewable heat to EU’s buildings and industries. The plan acknowledges that potential of solar heat for industrial processes is still “largely untapped” due to, in part, administrative hurdles and the gap between the payback times of investments and the financial requirements of most industrial actors. All these measures to ensure innovation in solar thermal require adequate financial support; the upcoming 2023-2024 work programme will include a flagship initiative to support solar energy research and innovation.