European solar manufacturing has two things in great abundance: a string of cutting-edge patents and a trail of bankruptcies.
Much of the technology embedded in today's solar modules can trace its roots to Europe. But as the industry scaled up in the last decade, China took control. The combination of a vast feed-in tariff program to support deployment in China and incentives to establish local manufacturing capacity caught the rest of the global industry off-guard, and most companies didn't make it.
As Chinese producers including Trina Solar, Jinko Solar and JA Solar grew to multi-gigawatt scale, the European Commission belatedly tried to protect local manufacturers. Germany's SolarWorld sparked a solar trade war that simmered on both sides of the Atlantic for the better part of a decade.
But a new dawn may be on the horizon as the cost of solar continues to drop. After bottoming out at a mere 5.5 gigawatts of new solar installations in 2017 — down from 22 gigawatts in 2011 — Europe's solar market is growing again, and increasingly on an unsubsidized basis.