Tens of thousands of solar panels are sitting unused in warehouses across Europe just as the continent struggles with an unprecedented energy crisis.
Demand for solar from households and businesses is soaring and the supply of panels is rising to meet it. But a key piece of the puzzle is missing: there are not enough engineers to install the rooftop modules fast enough to keep up with orders.
“Solar power is infrastructure, and you can’t just click your fingers and make infrastructure happen,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst at BloombergNEF. Solar firms “are starting to realise that, actually, they are not installing as fast as they are buying”, she said.
The backlog is showing up in export data from the world’s biggest producer of solar panels. China’s sales to Europe totalled €14.7bn from January to July, or about 54 gigawatts.
That is enough to power more than 16m German households, and more than the 41 gigawatts BloombergNEF had forecast would be installed in the continent over the whole of this year.
Europe is still set to install a record amount of solar capacity in 2022, but the number would be even higher if all the people clamouring for panels could actually get them, according to Dries Acke, director of Brussels-based lobby group Solar Power Europe.
“Installers in many countries are fully booked for the next weeks and months,” he said. For Belgium or Germany, panels ordered now might not get installed before March, he said.
The problem is that fixing solar panels to rooftops is labour-intensive. Interruptions caused by a lack of installers are much more common in the sector than for the scaled-up power plants constructed by utilities, according to Daniel Tipping, an analyst at consultancy Wood Mackenzie.