The generation of solar power using solar cells (PV) has really taken off in the Netherlands and Belgium over the last decade. Together both countries have a joint active capacity of more than 4-gigawatt peak. In the coming years this capacity will increase considerably.

Today it is already cheaper for consumers to generate electricity themselves with solar panels than to purchase it from the grid. Above all, there will be more and more European and national regulations demanding realisation of energy-neutral buildings. This is only feasible if they also generate electricity from for example solar cells. The PV capacity will therefore triple in the Netherlands and Belgium in the period up to and including 2020.

Both in Belgium and the Netherlands, a very significant number of the solar panels are to be found in the residential market where they are installed on houses. It is for this reason that there is a local market and a challenge to integrate PV in a socially acceptable manner in houses and other buildings. Market demand is rising for more efficient and customised solar panels, so that they can be installed as part of more integrated solutions and as building elements. There is also a demand for a smart series of products, customised building elements that are equipped with integrated PV elements.

One of the largest markets is formed by housing associations who manage 3 million homes. For newly build and renovation there is a demand for smart building components, produced in series and customised, with integrated PV. This as a replacement for the standard mass-produced solar panels.

Thin film solar cells offer lots of opportunities for customisation, because they can be applied directly to the construction materials like glass or steel and can be produced on a foil material. The adaptability of the dimensions, shape and colours as well as the electrical characteristics offer exceptional opportunities for integrating PV in building products cost efficiently and aesthetically.

Unique opportunity is that within the Interreg programme area all parts of the value chain are present, from research to development, and from manufacture to commercialisation. One of the initiatives to support this value chain is operated by Solliance around thin film. The Solliance initiative has, also supported by the Interreg IV-project Solar Flare, already led to an international leading alliance of companies and public institutions around material and production technology for thin film PV in the triangle Eindhoven-Louvain-Aachen (ELAt region).

All in all, there are great opportunities for getting new production facilities off the ground in the region for the manufacture of customised, PV-integrated solutions for renovation and new builds.