This article aims to shed light on the factors that frame the competitiveness and signal the viability of photovoltaic (PV), solar to electrical energy conversion: retail electricity prices, the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), subsidies, as well as the energy return on investment (EROI
). To that end a review of the ‘true cost’ of electricity generation, including the environmental impacts is necessary. We argue that renewables are part of the solution to updating and shoring up the aging grid. In addition, public engagement in changing the culture of energy use and provision is enabled with PV ownership and job creation, which stimulates the economy.
The accumulation of incremental additions of renewable energy systems in European markets is now revealing that the fundamental structure of the energy market is inadequate to meet 21st century requirements. In Europe, where renewables provide ∼20% of the electricity supply, PV installations have stalled despite goals to increase the amount of renewable energy. This article aims to shed light on the factors that frame the competitiveness and that signal the viability of PV: retail electricity prices, the energy market and subsidies, the LCOE, as well as a critical examination of the EROI. While a starting point, an incremental approach is not sufficient to address the systemic changes required to decarbonize the electricity supply in line with the recent (2015) Paris Agreement. The ‘true cost’ of electricity generation, including the environmental impacts, must be kept in sight. In terms of grid investments, renewables can play a crucial role in updating the aging grid infrastructure and making it more resilient. Public engagement in changing the culture of energy use and provision is enabled with PV ownership. Furthermore, a broad base of the economy is stimulated, not only because fossil fuel imports are avoided, keeping investment and creating value within the region, but also through significantly higher job creation with renewables than with incumbent technologies.