The Netherlands is not known for its sun. How did the Dutch become solar leaders?

Solar energy is now the cheapest option for new electricity sources in much of the world, and the Dutch are all for it.

The Netherlands is known for its scattered showers, abundant waterways and actively used agricultural land. It took a lot of ingenuity for a small country to reach the top of the continent’s sun pyramid.

One in three homes has solar panels on roofs, commercial enterprises take up space on waterways and even old landfills find a second life as energy generators.

The floating solar park Sellingen is one of the many solar panel installations on the water in the Netherlands.
Solar panels float on a lake in Groningen, the Netherlands. The Dutch have the second most floating solar panels in the world, after China. (Green life)

“I want to bust a myth,” says European solar strategist Kahya Engler when asked about the financial burden of going solar. “The cost of investing in solar has come down significantly.”

She has been working to promote renewable technology for almost two decades, with her most recent venture being with Dutch commercial rooftop leader Sunrock, helping to expand her business across Europe.

For her it’s a simple matter.

“We all have daylight and solar panels work on daylight,” she says from Sunrock’s Amsterdam office, where even the interior design pays tribute to the sun.

“We are ready to go.”

A photo of Kahya Engler, from Sunrock at her office in the Netherlands
Kahya Engler heads the mergers and acquisitions practice of Dutch solar company Sunrock. Two decades of work in solar strategy have convinced her that education is a key to growth in the sector. (Jill Engels/CBC)

But the key to continued growth, Engler says, is consistent government policies that encourage solar energy, something that is failing in Canada and could be at risk in Europe as well.

Solar revolution

According to the International Energy Agency, investment in the 70-year-old renewable technology is now greater than all other power generation technologies combined. latest investment reportpublished this month.

While Canada lags behind in solar Adoption is progressing rapidly in many places, including Germany, China, Japan and even the United States.

On certain days, so much energy is generated in some places that the price of purchasing it drops below zero. raising concerns about storage capacity for the abundant energy source.

The financial support imposes the global commitment triple renewable energy capacity According to some analysts, this should be feasible by 2030.

“Even if the transition is driven by economics alone, without further policy measures, renewables could still reach a 50 percent share of electricity generation by the end of this decade,” according to BloombergNEF’s New Energy Outlook 2024.

Over the past decade, global solar energy generation has increased. twelvefold risenbut some countries buy more than others.

While Germany The Netherlands has the largest capacity for generating solar energy in Europe. This currently makes the Netherlands the leader on the continent in terms of solar energy per capita.

The Netherlands embraces solar energy

Solar energy now accounts for more than 16.6 percent of the country’s electricity generation, which is well above Canada’s 1.1 percent and the global average of 5.5 percent.

“Renewables have been a big topic in Europe since 2000, but the Netherlands was a relatively slow starter,” Engler says. “It really grew very, very quickly.”

Susan Ormiston stands on a roof with a Sunrock project manager, watching a solar panel installation in progress
Susan Ormiston, CBC News international climate correspondent, speaks with Sunrock project manager Bert Meij on a rooftop in Dordrecht, Netherlands, as crews build a solar installation. (Jonathan Austin/CBC)

Sunrock specializes in commercial rooftop solar and has expanded rapidly across Europe since its founding as a small startup in 2012. The market leader now has over 160 employees and over five million square meters of operational solar photovoltaic systems (solar panels).

Project manager Bart Meij says that using roofs that would otherwise be empty is an untapped source of income for building owners and is an easy way to sell them.

“[The property owner] can rent out his roof and we can place solar panels on it. Win, win,” says Meij. “Indoor storage, green energy on the roof. Dual use, that’s better than single use.”

A worker installs solar panels on a roof in Dordrecht, Netherlands
The framework for 1,700 solar panels has been installed on the roof of a commercial building in Dordrecht, the Netherlands. When operational, the site will generate enough energy to power thousands of homes. ( (Jill Engels/CBC))

Each project requires several months of preparation and several weeks of installation before energy can be fed into the grid.

“Solar energy can be generated much faster than other energy sources,” says Sara Hastings-Simon, an energy systems researcher at the University of Calgary.

That was especially valuable when war broke out in Ukraine, she says, exposing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas as a vulnerable point.

Canada lags behind in solar energy production

In Canada, where traditional energy flows are not threatened by conflict, solar growth is not as great. Solar accounts for just over one percent of electricity generation.

Hastings-Simon also points out that much of Canada’s electricity mix comes from hydropower, a low-carbon source.

But when you compare it to investments in fossil fuels – the question the International Energy Agency is referring to – will peak at the end of the decade — Investments in solar energy remain low.

According to solar industry experts, changes in provincial policies, particularly in Ontario and Alberta, have led to a decline in both domestic and international investment over the past decade.

“It is undeniable that [renewables] have become increasingly politicized in Canada in recent times,” says Hastings-Simon.

According to the Canadian government, Alberta was responsible for three-quarters of Canada’s investment in wind and solar energy in 2022, but the province has a six months moratorium about new renewable energy projects last summer, followed by new regulations when the moratorium was lifted in February.

Critics say the rules still hinder growth.

“I think it’s safe to say that the policies that are being put in place now will have an impact and will slow down investment in solar,” Hastings-Simon said.

Changing politics creates instability for business

Engler fears that changing politics in Europe could also delay the transition there.

A tractor stands with a sign that says "no green deal" and a scarecrow on a noose, to suggest that the Green Deal is killing farmers.
Farmers protest in Brussels on June 4, ahead of the European elections. Many were against the European Green Deal. (Jill Engels/CBC)

Last month’s national elections and European Union vote have power given to more populist voices on the continent, calling into question the future of Europe’s leading climate policy — known as the European Green Deal.

“There is clearly a risk that this progress … slows down, which of course has implications for us as a business, but also for climate change,” Engler said. “It’s really important that the vision continues.”

She says that consistency and certainty allow room for ambition.

“The more positive the regulations, the faster we can really make this happen.”

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