There are different ways to convert the sun’s energy into an energy carrier such as electricity or heat. By far the most used is photovoltaic (PV) conversion from sunlight to produce electricity. PV panels can be found on many Dutch rooftops. In recent years, more and more large-scale PV projects on land and on water (floating PV) have been realized in the Netherlands. Concentrated solar power (CSP) systems are also used produce electricity from sunlight at large-scale. However, this technology is not applied in the Netherlands. CSP is not commercially interesting in the Netherlands due to too little occurrence of intensive direct solar radiation. Heat can be generated on a small scale from sunlight with solar boilers on roofs and on a larger scale with solar thermal collector fields. Solar heat makes a limited contribution to heat demand in the Netherlands, around 1100 TJ, which is less than 1% of heat demand. Most solar heat is generated in the Netherlands by solar boilers on roofs. Abroad, such as in Denmark, more large-scale solar heat systems (from 1 to more than 100 MW) are used to feed heat into heat networks, whether or not in combination with seasonal storage.
The costs of PV panels have fallen sharply in recent decades. From 2008 to 2018, the average PV panel cost has fallen from around € 4/watt to around € 0.25/watt. This cost reduction is largely explained by the massive scaling up of the production of PV panels in Asia. Another factor is the sharply increased efficiency of PV panels. In 2010, the average solar panels on the market converted around 14% of the sunlight into electricity, in 2017 the efficiency had risen to 19%. The current cost of the electricity generated by the panels depends on the circumstances such as the amount of hours of sunshine and the orientation towards the sun. In very sunny areas of the world the cost is around € 0.02 per kWh, whereas in the Netherlands the cost is around € 0.06 – € 0.08 per kWh. The costs in the Netherlands come close to the production costs of electricity from coal or gas-fired power stations.
In recent years, the Netherlands has stimulated solar energy with various incentive measures. Purchase subsidies and especially the net metering scheme has stimulated the purchase of solar energy by private individuals. The net metering scheme runs until 2023. The SDE + scheme is widely used to realize solar energy projects of a few MW on large industrial roofs and on land. The installed capacity of solar panels has therefore grown massively: from 90 MW in 2010 to 4400 MW in 2018 (data from Statistics Netherlands). In 2018, these panels generated more than 3 TWh of electricity, equivalent to around 3% of Dutch electricity consumption. It has been agreed in the Dutch Climate Agreement (adopted in 2019) that the energy supply through larger systems (> 15 kW) for solar and wind energy on land will grow to 35 TWh by 2030, of which a large part will be solar PV. Solar energy has also grown worldwide: the limit of 500 TWh electricity production from solar energy has recently been exceeded (out of a total worldwide electricity production of 21,000 TWh).
The growth of solar energy makes it increasingly visible in the landscape. Now that solar energy is becoming more visible in the landscape, there is a debate about the integration and the participation of residents. How to motivate consumers to opt for solar energy and the influence of schemes such as the net metering scheme are also a research theme.