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Italy Surpasses US in Solar PV

In a dramatic display of the power feed-in tariffs have in driving markets, Italy installed more solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2009 than the entire U.S. Moreover, within the first quarter of 2010, Italy's total installed solar PV capacity was expected to exceed that of the US.

Italy installed 720 megawatts (MW) of solar PV in 2009, nearly all of that on rooftops. In contrast, the U.S. installed 435 MW during the same period, according to a draft report by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).

Italy introduced a system of feed-in tariffs for solar PV in February, 2007 after concluding that the previous program of Tradable Green Certificates was not delivering the results desired.

By the end of 2007, Italy had installed five times more solar PV than in the previous year. Despite numerous bureaucratic roadblocks, the solar industry took off in 2008 and installed nearly 350 MW, then a record-breaking number. Solar PV installations have been doubling since then and are expected to reach 1,500 MW in 2010.

Italy is three-fourths the size of California, with which it is often compared because of their similarly-sized economies. Italy has a population of 60 million, to California's 40 million. The population of the U.S. is five times that of Italy.

Italy is now the world's second largest annual market for solar PV, after Germany.

IREC estimates that there was 1,250 MW of total installed solar PV capacity in the U.S. at the end of 2009. Currently, the U.S. is installing 40-50 MW per month, and Italy 125 MW per month. At this pace, Italy surpassed the U.S. in total installed PV capacity before the end of the first quarter, likely by the end of February 2010.

Italy is installing more capacity--250 MW--every two months than California is installing per year.

By the end of 2010, Italy will have a total installed capacity of more than 2,500 MW. This is two and one-half times more capacity than is expected in California, and one and one-half times more than is expected in the U.S.

Italy's 2007 decree also set a solar PV target of 1,200 MW. They reached their target earlier this year.

Unlike Spain, the government has no plans to cut the program dramatically. The proposed revision to the feed-in tariff program (conto energia), currently waiting approval, reduces the tariffs and sets a new target of 3,000 MW for the three-year period from 2011 to 2013. The revisions are expected to be approved sometime this summer. The proposal cuts the tariffs 18% in three equal steps of 6% during each of the first three quarters in 2011.

According to Gruppo Imprese Fotovoltaiche Italiane (GIFI), 93% of all solar PV in Italy is installed on rooftops in distributed applications. Data from Gestore dei Servizi Energetici indicates that about one-fourth of all Italian solar PV installations are less than 20 kilowatts (kW) in size, or about 300 MW.

  • <3 kW: 6%
  • >3 kW<20 kW: 21%
  • >20 kW<200 kW: 23%
  • >200 kW<1,000 kW: 36%
  • >1,000 kW: 14%

Paul Gipe has written extensively about renewable energy for both the popular and trade press. He has also lectured widely on wind energy and how to minimize its impact on the environment and the communities of which it is a part.

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