Why the EU supports solar energy research and innovation

Solar energy is energy derived from the sun. It can be used to produce electricity or heat.

Solar power already provides an important contribution to the European energy mix, with 3.6% of EU-28 gross electricity generation in 2017 (source: Eurostat).

Based on current market trends, BloombergNEF estimates that solar has the potential to meet 20% of the EU electricity demand in 2040. 

For solar to become an even more important source of clean energy in Europe, generation costs need to be lowered and the efficiency of converting sunlight to energy improved.

Research and innovation focuses on photovoltaics, concentrated solar power and solar heating and cooling.

Photovoltaics

This technology converts sunlight directly into electricity by exploiting the photovoltaic effect -creating voltage or electrical current by exposure to light. Solar panel cells are an example of this process.

What the EU is doing

The EU funds research aiming to find new materials, better design photovoltaic cells to make more efficient solar panels and lower the cost of generating electricity.

Concentrated Solar Power

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate the sun's energy to drive steam turbines that create electricity.

Because CSP incorporates in-built thermal energy storage, electricity can be produced on demand.

CSP is particularly suitable for semi-arid areas with rich direct solar irradiation and it constitutes an export sector for EU industry.

The cost of CSP needs to decrease to make this technology competitive. Not only technological advances, but also non-technological factors such as economies of scale, will help lower costs.

What the EU is doing

To support the development of CSP systems, the EU funds research projects aiming to identify more efficient cycles and components.

The EU also helps make the technology less risky by supporting the demonstration of large installations and contributing to financing first-of-a-kind plants.

Solar heating and cooling

Solar energy can also be used for heating and/or cooling. Solar thermal collectors are used mainly for producing domestic hot water in residential buildings, but also in industrial applications.

The challenge is to integrate solar-driven technologies into buildings' heating or cooling systems. Another important factor is the economic analysis - the viability of Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC) is strongly shaped by local conditions and the local fuel price of the conventional system that SHC would be replacing.

In terms of solar resource, SHC can be deployed in most regions of Europe.

What the EU is doing

EU research and innovation supports developing reliable, economically viable solar-driven solutions for the production of domestic hot water, district heating and industrial or commercial applications.

Funding opportunities

  • Horizon 2020

    Calls for proposal related to energy themes in Horizon 2020. On this page you can find more information, the work programme and a link to the energy related calls.

  • Access to risk finance

    Gain easier access to debt and equity financing managed by the European Investment Bank Group and European Investment Fund

  • Connecting Europe Facility - energy

    CEF energy funds and finances energy infrastructure projects

  • NER 300 programme

    Funding for innovative low-carbon technology research with focus on environmentally safe Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and innovative renewable energy technologies

  • LIFE+ Climate Action

    Co-financing for climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation research, supporting the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy

  • European structural and investment funds (ESIF)

    Energy research related calls may be found in these funds

  • COSME

    EU Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (COSME) aims to make it easier for SMEs to access finance in all phases of their lifecycle

  • EIC Horizon Prize on artificial photosynthesis

    Prize awarding €5 million to the best solution demonstrating the use of sunlight to produce a sustainable fuel ready for use in housing, transport or industry

  • Prize for renewable energy islands

    Prize rewarding achievements in local renewable energy production for electricity, heating, cooling and transport on islands.

Collaboration and jobs

Projects and results

Scientific publications, tools and databases

Contact

  • Research enquiry service

    You can contact the research enquiry service to find out more about research in Europe, the EU's research and innovation funding programmes as well as calls for proposals and project funding.  

  • National contact points

    The national contact points (NCP) network gives guidance and information on participating in Horizon 2020. NCPs are established in all EU countries and many non-EU countries.

  • Enterprise Europe Network

    The Enterprise Europe Network is the world’s largest support network for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with international ambitions. 

  • European IP Helpdesk

    Service that offers an intellectual property rights helpline, training and online library.

Related Commission departments