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Spike in demand for solar panels despite long waits, higher prices

The cost of solar panels is rising, but that hasn't limited their popularity among customers worried about emissions and rate hikes.

Rooftop solar panels in Jyväskylä's Laajavuori district. Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

Homeowners and housing companies in Finland are buying more solar panels than ever before. Their popularity has been growing steadily for several years, but this spring's electricity rate hikes have raised demand to a new level.

"From the beginning of the year, many customers were still waiting for a while and tracking the development of electricity prices. In March, we started noticing that this is the new normal, and the volume of orders exploded," said Joonas Kinnunen, business manager at Lumme Energia, based in Mikkeli, eastern Finland.

More choosing solar for "ideological reasons"

According to Kinnunen, more customers are choosing solar for "ideological reasons".

"With some customers, we don't even focus on the price; it's more about the customer wanting to produce electricity from renewable energy themselves," he said.

The war between Ukraine and Russia also has had an impact, according to Tapio Tuomi, director of the Finnish Clean Energy Association.

"People want to protect themselves from uncertainties by increasing their self-sufficiency," said Tuomi.

Lumme Energia is preparing for a busier summer than usual, with record-long waiting lists for panel installation. According to Kinnunen, consumers should hurry if they want solar panels in place before next autumn.

"Normally, our installation queue is from three weeks to a month, but at the moment the waiting time is more than two months," said Kinnunen.

Severe winter weather, freight costs and material shortages

In addition to the global situation, installations are behind schedule due to last winter's severe weather. For instance, Kinnunen says that installations planned for last December were delayed due to ice.

The popularity of solar electricity has risen steadily since 2016, according to a study published by the Clean Energy Association last month. According to Kinnunen, solar panels are cheaper than five years ago, but the price has started to rise again in the last year. So far, the rise in prices has not dampened demand, as the price of electricity is rising even faster, he noted.

According to Kinnunen, prices are being pushed up by freight costs, growing demand and especially material shortages. Much of Europe's solar panels come from China, but imports of solar panels will decrease in the future.

"We have enough panels for this year, but we'll have to see what the situation is for next year," Kinnunen said.

The growth in sales is also affected by the fact that many people are buying slightly more solar panels than they need, said Tuomi. Customers can now earn more revenue by selling their surplus electricity to local utilities. The proliferation of electric cars is also playing a role.

"Many who are buying solar panels have either just bought an electric car or are planning to buy one," said Tuomi.