Despite the uncertainties plaguing the European and Chinese markets in particular, a new report has revealed that 28.4GW of solar PV capacity was installed in 2012, bringing total global capacity to 89.5GW in the 23 countries in the International Energy Agency's study.
The report, Snapshot of Global PV said that another estimated 7GW of capacity is in the pipeline in markets outside the 23 countries looked at by the IEA which would increase the total to 96.5GW from 2011’s 28.9GW.
And the agency said that with installations worlwide difficult to quantify with precision, the 100GW milestone has already been passed in the first quarter of this year.
The IEA's report is at odds with other recent analyses of the global solar market. Market research firm IHS’s recent report said that global PV installations in 2012 reached 31.4GW, to which it attributed a 14% increase over the previous year. Meanwhile NPD Solarbuzz recently put global installations at 29GW for 2012.
The IEA report notes that Europe still represents 59% of this global market, although 2012 saw the rapid growth of the Asia Pacific region and the Americas.
Gaëtan Masson, Operating Agent for Task 1 IEA-PVPS, told PV-Tech: "Europe will decrease, with little doubt. Mainly because of the unsustainable level the market reached in some countries.
"Subsidy cuts are indeed responsible for the inability of the market in Europe to maintain itself at the level it reached... but the transition period from the current market to that new, sustainable one, could push the market down during some years."
The Middle East and Africa remains a region in development for the PV market.
While the three regions or countries where grid-connected PV developed first continue to dominate the installations history, China has progressed so quickly that it represented the second largest market in 2012, ahead of Italy or the USA. In terms of total installed capacity it has already reached third position.
NPD Solarbuzz reported that installations in China are expected to reach over 7GW in 2013, yet seasonality and policy incentive deadlines have already seen demand weaken in the first quarter that has had a negative knock-on effect on global PV demand in the quarter. The market research firm still expects China to account for more than 20% of global PV market demand this year.
Ramin Dilmaghanian, business development director at PV manufacturer Yingli told PV-Tech that China is committed to its long-term growth: “China has made a commitment to grow its renewable electricity generating base given the ever growing need for energy throughout the country.
“The government has put in place attractive incentive regimes such as the Golden Sun programme and the country benefits from having created world-class PV manufacturing companies. It demonstrates a clear commitment to renewables which should see China continue to climb the ranking tables for renewables”.
In Europe, for the second year in a row, PV was the first source of electricity installed (power-wise), ahead of wind and gas, and ahead of all other sources of electricity, from coal to nuclear. This is accompanied by several countries where the annual PV contribution to electricity demand has passed the 1% mark, with Italy at the top with at least 5.75% and the overall European PV contribution amounting to around 2.5% of Europe's electricity demand. Australia has also passed the 1% mark but larger consumers of electricity such as Japan, China or the US will require more PV capacity to reach this threshold.
Finally, the report notes that PV has become a major source of electricity extremely rapidly in several countries all over the world. The speed of its development stems from its unique ability to cover most market segments, from the very small individual systems for rural electrification to utility-size power plants (today above 100MW). From the built environment to large ground-mounted installations, PV finds its way, depending on various criteria that make it suitable for most environments.
Michael Franz, project manager for the EU Energy Initiative – Partnership Dialogue Facility, a European body set up to promote access to sustainable energy in emerging economies told PV-Tech: “In particular in the ‘global sunbelt’ countries, PV is pushing into micro- and macro-economic viability. Price decreases and new business models make it possible to bring electricity access to millions of new users, especially in remote areas of developing countries with dispersed population. The market curve for PV in rural electrification is still relatively flat, but it’s steepening rapidly.”