The International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA PVPS) has hailed PV’s emergence as a mainstream energy source, revealing that it met 1% of global electricity demand last year.

The IEA PVPS’ annual report said the landmark, the first time it had been achieved in history, was a consequence of strong year-on-year growth in solar deployment and an ongoing fall in costs.

“Although this number may still appear as small, it represents a tremendous development of the past years, much faster than all predictions had forecasted, be it from the IEA all the way through to Greenpeace,” said IEA PVPS chairman, Stefan Nowak.

Although early leader markets such as Europe had slowed down, the report said this had been more than compensated for by growth in Asia and the USA, and the expansion of PV into a number of significant new emerging markets.

Alongside PV’s strong deployment growth, the report highlighted the technology’s rapidly decreasing costs as a crucial factor in its expansion.

“Along with this important market growth, PV has further gained in cost-competitiveness and has become one of the least cost options of renewable electricity, achieving remarkable levelised costs of electricity as low as below US$0.06/kWh in the best cases,” said Nowak.

But in his foreword to the report Nowak said that PV’s growth had brought with it technical and economic challenges.

Nowak said the IEA PVPS, established in 1993 as a collaborative R&D programme, was investigating many of these issues through its various joint research initiatives or ‘tasks’, progress reports on which are detailed in the report.

Ongoing priorities include performance assessment, cost reduction and grid integration, but Nowak said the PVPS was increasingly focused on areas such as developing new business models, sustainable policy frameworks and technical and market integration of PV in the electricity system.

The PVPS report said one of its main objectives for the coming years was to support PV’s transition to market self-sustainability.