Sweden On the third day in Visby there was a seminar on solar farms - is this the world's cheapest energy source? Solar panels are rapidly gaining in popularity, especially in Europe, but they are far less popular in the Nordic countries.

Solar panels have gone from being an extremely expensive technology to being competitive with other forms of energy. In 2013 more new solar energy than wind power was installed worldwide, but progress in the Nordic countries and Sweden is slow.

The seminar was run in collaboration with Johan Lindahl from Sweden's solar energy association Svensk Solenergi, who explained that the price of solar panels has fallen because the efficiency of the solar panel modules had increased and the use of materials, including silicon, has decreased. In other words, developments in technology are bringing the price down.

"Every time we double our installations, the price drops by 30 per cent. Lower production costs for solar farms make them attractive. Wind power and gas are also cost effective, while nuclear power has become more expensive and coal has remained at the same level," says Lindahl.

In Asia, higher living standards have led to an increase in the installation of solar panels, and Asia is now the world leader in this field. Generation is on an increasingly large scale while in Europe, and in the Nordic countries in particular, generation is still primarily on a small scale. Åsa Domeij, head of sustainability at Axfood, said that they have installed solar panels on their cooling plants. Summer is the time of year when they have the greatest need for cooling, and it's also when the sun shines the most.

"Together, many roofs can generate a great deal of electricity. It's easy for businesses to play their part in making society more sustainable. I believe that the energy market of the future will be more diverse. Here at Axfood we depend on transport, so our dream would be to use solar energy and hydrogen as energy sources," she says.

"We see a wealth of opportunities in this field and we want to be there to invest when solar panels go into production on a large scale. At the moment we're mainly investing in wind power, because it's cheaper to build, but small-scale production of solar panels is growing and we are getting involved in this and can help our customers with everything from analysis and advice to installation and commissioning," says Tomas Björnsson, head of Strategy and Market Analysis at Vattenfall.

"The risk of investing in solar panels is tiny compared with other energy sources, so we'll probably see more solar panel manufacturers in the future," says Johan Lindahl.

The development of renewables, where the electricity price can be a key factor, was discussed. For some industries the price is crucial. The issue of complex tax regulations and restrictions on capacity was also broached.

"Electricity prices in Europe are generally higher than they are in China and the US. During the winter, demand for electricity is high. Given our geographical location, we can't rely on solar power as our sole source of energy. But subsidies are affecting the markets and should be used with caution. We need to ensure that solar power and wind power can compete without financial support," says Maria Sunér Fleming, head of the Energy, Infrastructure and Environment unit at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Svenskt Näringsliv.

"Italy, for example, no longer uses subsidies. In my view, we ought to ensure that fossil sources cover their costs, but it's clear from emissions trading that this is not the case. Tax revenues should be used in a way which has greater benefits for the public," says MEP Jakop Dalunde, who sits on the energy and industry committee.

"Weather-dependent generation is not an option - we must have a mix and use controllable power too," says Ulf Moberg, Technical Director at grid operator Svenska Kraftnät. This met with everyone's approval.

The conclusion is that most people don't believe that large-scale solar panel production in the Nordic countries is feasible at the moment, but they do believe that small-scale production will become ever more significant. This is due to price, simplicity and sustainability. Åsa Domeij's views on the subject say it all:

"Solar power is a great thing and must be part of our future!

40 per cent of those in the audience believe that solar power will be the cheapest energy source in Sweden within 20 years.

Related content