Europe's next goal: solar panels on roofs of every shed, factory and home

Rooftop solar panels.
Rooftop solar panels. Source: Elektrilevi

Estonia supports the initiative of the European Commission to mandate the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of new commercial buildings within four years. For existing non-residential structures, the Commission proposes compliance within five years, whereas Estonia requests a three-year delay.

The European Commission proposed the RePower EU initiative in the spring, which is expected to significantly speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels. The plans are primarily concerned with accelerating the bureaucratic procedures surrounding wind farm projects.

While the installation of wind turbines remains a private initiative, the Commission seeks to mandate the installation of rooftop solar parks.

"This requirement would apply to all new non-residential buildings beginning in 2027. All new residential buildings will be required to conform beginning in 2030," Ivo Jaanisoo, the deputy secretary general for construction at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said, adding that "the dates are suitable for Estonia."

Jaanisoo, who is in charge of building energy efficiency, said that solar energy solutions can, broadly speaking, meet modern energy efficiency requirements. However, Estonia does not agree that all existing non-residential buildings, such as offices and warehouses, should have solar panels installed by the end of 2027.

"We agree with the concept of utilizing the roof space of existing buildings, but we need more time for a number of reasons," Jaanisoo said, emphasizing that solar panels are growing more expensive to purchase and install. The price will hike in response to a significant increase in demand.

"Secondly," Jaanisoo continued, "many rooftops on non-residential structures are not built to support the weight of solar panels and, moreover, many roofs require additional insulation. This implies that extensive renovations will be necessary to accomplish this task."

As a third issue, Jaanisoo named the current power grid's inability to sustain a large number of electricity generators. He believes that if the deadline were extended by three years, the network's development would likewise be much less expensive.

Jaanisoo said that not all buildings could be outfitted with solar panels by the end of 2030 and the additional three years is a compromise proposal from Estonia, he explained.

"We already know that the European Commission is extremely ambitious when it comes to establishing these time-frames," Jaanisoo said, "so a ten-year extension is unlikely to be discussed."

Exemptions are expected for the military and protected structures

If the European Commission approves the update to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, Estonia will be required to incorporate the changes into its own laws, and all building owners will be required to comply with the new regulations.

This raises the issue of fines. "Other member states are also concerned about how owners of existing buildings could be penalized if they do not install the panels by the deadline," Jaanisoo said, adding that an exemption would be required, for instance, if the structure is vacant or if it is no longer reasonable to reinforce the roof.

"We are especially interested in cases where buildings are shielded from the sun, such as when there is a big tree or another tall building adjacent to the structure," Jaanisoo said. "Or where there is a grid to which you cannot connect."

In general, installing solar panels on all existing non-residential buildings would increase Estonia's electricity generation capacity by 10 percent and, even under Estonia's compromise strategy, many buildings should have rooftop solar parks by 2030.

Exemptions, according to Jaanisoo, should be carefully negotiated at the EU level.

"This type of general regulation, which may imply an absolute obligation for some nations while attenuating it with all sorts of exceptions for others," Jaanissoo said, "is not acceptable."

"We believe that if there is a pan-European regulation, the rules of the game should be comparable across all nations," he said.

Estonia, in particular, wants the southern and northern member states to be evaluated separately. Simply put, solar panel installation is significantly more cost-effective in the south.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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