James Montgomery, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
February 12, 2013 | 12 Comments
New Hampshire, USA -- Cumulative global installed solar PV capacity has topped the 100-gigawatt (GW) milestone, according to preliminary numbers from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). Roughly 30 GW worldwide was connected to the grid in 2012, about the same as in 2011; there could be another 1-2 GW added to that 2012 total once final numbers come out in May.
Note these are defined as "systems connected to the grid" to emphasize the electricity-generation theme. Europe's 69 GW of total installed capacity is enough to produce roughly 2.6% of the region's electricity demand this year, and about 5.2% of peak electricity demand, according to the EPIA.
There's another important milestone in the EPIA's tally of solar PV. Countries outside of Europe connected 13 GW, up from 8 GW in 2011 and just 3 GW in 2010; at the same time Europe's PV installations fell from 23 GW in 2011 to 17 GW in 2012, its first decline since 2006.
The table below spells it out. Eight nations added at least a gigawatt of grid-connected capacity in 2012: Germany, China, Italy, the U.S., Japan, France, the U.K., and India. Thirteen nations (up from 8 in 2011) are in the gigawatt-club of cumulative solar installations: Germany, Italy, the U.S., China, Japan, Spain, France, Belgium, Australia, the Czech Republic, the U.K., Greece, and India.
"No one would have predicted even 10 years ago that we would see more than 100 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity in the world by 2012," stated EPIA President Winfried Hoffmann. Despite tough economic times and regulatory uncertainty, "the results of 2012 show there is a strong global market for our technology," he said. "The key going forward will be to address these new market challenges and continue policies that help PV technology to grow sustainably, continuing its evolution to a mainstream electricity source."
Largest markets, with at least 100-MW installed during 2012 or in total. (Source: EPIA)
Some countries are worth highlighting for their solar adoption even in the face of less than friendly regulatory environments. France and the UK, for example, each installed over 1 GW of solar capacity in 2012; Greece installed just shy of 1 GW during its crippling economic recession. "That shows how much potential there is there even in face of policy adversity," observed Craig Winneker, head of political communications at the EPIA. Moreover, France represents the positive influence of policy changes toward solar energy adoption, having recently announced an unexpected boost in its support for solar. "France is now singing a different tune" after a change in the political scene in 2012, he said. China, meanwhile, continues to be a strong market, basically doubling its capacity in 2012.
Policy decisions cut both ways, though. Spain's market famously overheated and then overreacted to the overheating, and now the government has basically implemented a moratorium on any support for the technology, connecting just 200 MW of solar in 2012, notes the EPIA: "The long-expected net-metering scheme was never introduced, and there are doubts as to whether it ever will be, given the government's fear of creating another boom." Nevertheless, Spain remains "an obvious place" for solar energy to proliferate given its high irradiation and ideal land setting for the technology, added Winneker. Another start-stop solar market, the Czech Republic, installed 116 MW in 2012, similarly well off its levels from 2009-2010; they, too, "had their foot too heavily on the gas, and then hit the brakes too hard," he said.
What can we expect for 2013 solar PV installations? Another 30 GW or even more is entirely possible, the EPIA says, with 10-15 GW of grid-connected solar installations in Europe "in line with the market reality." Germany should see more self-consumption in residential and commercial markets (especially with new energy storage incentives) and declining PV system prices, but likely won't achieve close to 7+ GW of grid-connection. Italy could see similar market trends as Germany, at a smaller scale. Broadly, the shift of solar PV adoption away of Europe will continue; China is likely to unseat Germany as the top PV market with its target of 10 GW this year, and big growth is expected to continue -- and continues to be expected -- in the U.S., Japan, and India.
Lead image: Golden 100, via Shutterstock