Walburga Hemetsberger sees Europe as a pioneer in the energy transition and climate action. And the goal of defending this role – also when it comes to competitiveness. The urgency to expand renewables is just as clear to her as the competition “not only with China but also with the USA and India“. As CEO of SolarPower Europe, she describes her vision as follows: “For me, Europe means security and economic prosperity. And being innovative together.”
Born in Austria, Hemetsberger has been living in Brussels for many years. What is striking about her professional career: Her consistent connection to the energy sector. Before joining Europe’s solar energy association, she headed the Brussels office of Verbund AG, Austria’s largest utility company, and served as a board member of Hydrogen Europe. The 47-year-old studied law and business administration in Innsbruck. This background sharpens her view of the applicable legal framework in energy policy.
For ‘the European cause’
Even after 20 years in the EU headquarters city, Hemetsberger has not lost her Austrian dialect. However, speaking German is now something she is no longer used to due to her English-speaking work environment. She says, “I have always been a staunch European.” After graduating, she began to work for “the European cause”.
She was won over by the versatility of photovoltaics: on roofs, in the form of large solar farms, and in agriculture. Regarding PV, Europe exceeded the association’s forecasts in 2022. During the year, 41.4 gigawatts of new capacity was installed, according to SolarpowerEurope figures – enough to power 12.4 million homes.
Solar energy as democracy in action
“Solar energy is very democratic. Everyone can participate – on the roof of their own house or via a citizen’s share in the solar park. Everyone becomes an energy citizen and helps with the energy transition,” says Hemetsberger. She never tires of emphasizing that PV also makes sense in places with fewer hours of sunshine: “Together with wind, solar will be one of the two crucial technologies that will hopefully lead us out of the crisis.”
She sees the main obstacle currently in approval procedures, which are still too slow across Europe – especially in view of the huge interest in securing energy supplies. But Hemetsberger also acknowledges the small steps forward: She welcomes the options of Repowering, with which solar plants in Germany can henceforth be more easily outfitted with new, more efficient PV modules to increase the yield.
In her view, bringing workers into future-oriented technology fields is a huge opportunity. “The question is to what extent you can do that just through market-based mechanisms, or do you need steering instruments to bring the PV industry back here?” She hopes SolarPower Europe will bring solar manufacturing back to Europe. Walburga Hemetsberger knows, “Only if we produce gigawatts on a large scale in Europe can we be globally competitive at the end of the day.” Julia Klann