By D.A. Barber
A January 2012 report from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) says that total installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity worldwide reached more than 67.4 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2011. If the total energy output of the world's PV capacity was generated over a one year period, it would “equal to some 80 billion kilowatt-hours, sufficient to cover the annual power supply needs of more than 20 million households in the world,” according to the report.
The growth of PV since 2009 has been unprecedented despite the economic slump in Europe and the United States. In 2009, the global PV market reached 7.2GW and the cumulative PV power installed totaled over 22GW world-wide, compared to 15GW in 2008. During 2010 approximately 15,000MW of new PV installations had been added, bringing the entire PV capacity to almost 40,000MW.
PV is now the third most important renewable energy source, after hydro and wind power, in terms of globally installed renewable energy capacity. In 2011, 27.6GW of new PV was installed equaling an annual growth rate of almost 70 percent.
The Global PV Market in 2011
The volume of new grid-connected PV capacities world-wide rose from 16.6GW in 2010 to 27.7GW in 2011. With almost 21GW of grid connected PV installations in 2011 counted in Europe, that region has increased its cumulative PV capacity by over 50 percent. This figure was mainly driven by 3 markets: Italy, Germany and France. The United States installed 1.6GW of PV in 2011, for a total installed capacity of 4.2GW and ranked fourth in the world for new installations after Italy, Germany and China.
The number of countries reaching more than 1GW of additional PV capacity during 2011 rose from 3 to 6. In 2010 the top 3 were Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. But in 2011, Italy gained the lead with Germany, China, the USA, France and Japan following with over 1GW of new capacity each.
An earlier EPIA report, “Solar Photovoltaics competing in the energy sector – On the road to competitiveness,” was released at the 8th European PV Industry Summit in September 2011. That analysis of the electricity markets in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK indicated that PV competitiveness with grid electricity can be achieved in some European countries as early as 2013, and then spread across the continent by 2020.
Europe’s PV Growth
The European share in the global PV - almost 21GW of grid connected PV - was more than 75 percent of all new global capacity in 2011, and Italy and Germany accounted for nearly 60 percent of that global market growth, according to EPIA. In total, Europe installed over 50GW of PV systems by the end of 2011.
European Photovoltaic Industry Association
“With growing contributions from Southern European countries, the average load factor of this capacity is increasing and will produce some 60 billion kWh on an annual basis, enough energy to supply over 15 million European households,” notes the EPIA report.
Italy topped the European PV market with 9GW of newly grid connected generation in 2011, compared to 2.3GW in 2010. This was due in part from the adoption of a decree allowing for PV systems installed by the end of 2010 but connected by mid-2011 to benefit from the 2010 Feed-in Tariffs. The decree, known as Salva Alcoa, allowed 3.5GW of installations to benefit from these FITs. By the beginning of 2011, Italy’s 3rd Conto Energia recorded 1.5GW of newly connected PV. The 4th Conto Energia began June 2011 and despite its reduced FiT, allowed for the connection of an additional 4GW of PVs.
Germany’s 2011 market growth to 7.5GW started to slow due to harsh weather and lower FITs. According to EPIA, “From March installations started to rise and reached up to some 600 MW in the months of June and July. Unlike the previous year there was no reduction of the FIT in July.”
France saw 1.5GW of new grid-connected PV in 2011, due mainly as a result of installations done in 2010. In fact, less than 10 percent of this capacity was actually installed during 2011. According to the EPIA report, Italy’s “new legal framework allows systems of up to 100kW only to benefit from a remunerative FiT level, whilst larger projects had to wait until the summer to apply for several types of call-for-tender schemes. The new support framework aims to limit the annual market size to 500 MW.” The report also notes that the grid connection process in France can take as long as 18 months. “The important FIT cuts and long grid connection lead times explain why new installations were at a poor level during 2011, whilst grid connections reached a record high of 1.5 GW in 2011,” concludes EPIA.
The UK reached an unprecedented growth of some 700MW due in part to a new FIT scheme introduced in April 2010 and immediately used by PV developers. A planned January 2011 “fast track review” had also led to a strong reduction of all FIT for PV systems over 50kW, which in turn led to a rush of projects seeking grid connection before that deadline. That FIT cut was “followed by another intervention announced at the end of October 2011 affecting smaller PV systems, leading to another massive rally for grid connection in 2011,” according to EPIA.
Other key European markets that saw increases included Belgium (550MW), Spain (400MW), Slovakia (350MW), Greece (350MW), Austria (100MW) and Bulgaria some (80MW).
Outside of Europe
China added at least 2GW of new grid-connected PV systems thanks to the deployment of FITs at the provincial level. Some growth was also seen in the USA, with at least 1.6GW of newly connected systems - nearly double their 2010 market figures. Japan saw over 1GW of PV systems installed in 2011 due to their revised FIT scheme. Australia added some 700MW of new installations, India installed over 300MW, Canada added 300MW, Ukraine added 140MW, and Israel added 130MW.
According to the EPIA, 2011 saw PV prices going down rapidly “due to increased economies of scale, production efficiency and – in particular – a strong supply overhang compared to demand.” This could partly account for the shift in growth:
In 2010, 80 percent of global grid-connected PV was in Europe while in 2011, Europe’s share dropped to 75 percent.
The EPIA report concludes that the “PV industry is at a crossroads. Whilst European markets have always outpaced home production, this will presumably no longer be the case in the years to come. At the same time, massive capacity build-up concentrated in Asia has not yet led to a sustainable growth momentum in local markets and is far from being in tune with its enormous production power.”
But the EPIA report also notes that “the final numbers on grid connected capacities are communicated in several markets only around March. On the back of very strong growth contributions during the last quarter of the previous year, they then need to be revised upwards.”
EPIA believes that keeping up the PV capacity momentum by adding additional markets is the “single most important achievement on the continued growth track of world-wide PV development. And yet, many of the cited markets, in particular China, the USA and Japan, but also Australia and India, have addressed only a very small part of their enormous potential; several countries from large sunbelt regions like Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America are on the brink of starting their development.”
The EPIA report offers three recommendations with regard to the future direction of the PV industry:
“Firstly, large producer countries will need to activate their home markets, placing a larger share of their production locally. Secondly, with enormous potentials still untapped in almost all continents, new markets will have to be opened up to drive PV development in the coming decade just as Europe accounted for it during the last decade. Finally, the principles of open markets and fair competition should be recalled and will certainly require more attention in the future.”
When it comes to measuring total global solar power, it should also be noted that the EPIA report does not reflect the additional worldwide total grid-connected electricity generated by other solar technologies, such as Concentrated Solar Power.