Europeans need to urgently increase the solar power that their economies generate or face a reckoning with climate change they could regret.  Those are the stark choices outlined by top European Union scientists whose advice will be published by Elsevier BV. They see massive new solar investments not only for the bloc to meet its 2030 climate goals, but also to spur employment and development of automated-manufacturing technologies. Their proposal got a potential lift on Wednesday when the EU made climate-neutrality a key pillar of a historic plan to spur economic growth in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Accelerating the annual photovoltaic installation rate compared to  the current value is a no-regret option,” Joint Research Centre scientists led by Arnulf Jaeger–Waldau wrote for July’s issue of the  journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. They said solar power “represents a win-win option” for countries that need to cut greenhouse gas emissions while kick-starting sustainable economic activity.

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By 2030, Europeans need to boost installed solar-power capacity to at least 455 gigawatts from about 133 gigawatts today, the researchers said.  Solar manufacturers have been in a fight in the last decade that’s pushed panel costs down more than three-quarters and resulted in wild up-and-down swings in demand. Most of today’s biggest photovoltaic makers are located in China.

To turn those fluctuations into steady growth, the EU scientists want to “bring photovoltaic factories back to Europe” by linking the renewable-energy transition with cutting-edge manufacturing. Automation and industrial robots could alleviate the bloc’s high labor costs while stimulating orders for European machine makers. That could help the number of solar-energy jobs more than double from roughly 133,000 today.