Will the real 2014 global solar installation figure please stand up!

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As we near the end of the first quarter of 2015, clarity over actual global PV market demand in 2014 remains elusive and confusing as a number of well covered forecasters remain hunkered down in their bunkers while others have started shooting figures from the hip with some simply not hitting the target and bordering on the ridiculous side of conservatism. 

We now have several ‘independent’ projections claiming installations were no more than 40GW and several non-independent PV suppliers saying the same thing

A few have also erred on the side of caution and reiterate installs were around 45GW but most have yet to provide ‘actual’ updated figures from last year and therefore are still trying to do the number crunching. 

40GW conundrum 

Normally, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) issues final install figures for global installs in June of each year, during Intersolar Europe, which are taken as the conservative general consensus of a given years' global figures. 

Last year EPIA said some 37GW was added globally in 2013, while highlighting China installed 11.3GW and Europe with 10GW. 

However, EPIA has just released preliminary figures for 2014 after hosting the 10th annual Market Workshop, which resulted in the trade body saying just 40GW was installed globally last year. 

Regrettably, EPIA just added more confusion to the PV market forecasting conundrum by citing that Europe installed only around 7GW in 2014, compared to 10GW in 2013 but didn’t divulge figures in a press release for the two biggest markets in 2014, China and Japan. 

EPIA also failed to mention the US or North American figures, which given that GTM/SEIA said the US installed 6.2GW last year, though not including Canada, could reasonably have surpassed Europe, highlighting that EPIA has not highlighted the four largest markets in 2014. 

There would seem to be a serious problem with all forecasting at the moment and in particular over 2014 figures for China, Japan and emerging markets such as Latin America and Africa. 

Although China’s NEA has said grid connections were 10.6GW in 2014, the likes of IHS and BNEF had until recently projected around 12GW of installations in the largest market and in just the last few days, BNEF told PV Tech that it had raised that figure to 13GW. 

The problem with China is that because there was such a mad rush to complete projects at the end of the year, coupled to the challenges of tracking installs in China, getting the installation figure wrong could result in global estimates varying by several gigawatts from one market research firm to another. 

On a basic level it should be noted that NEA is claiming to count grid connections not installations that have yet to be grid connected. According to BNEF that figure could be around 4GW, adding to the complexity for the forecasters.

Japan is also proving difficult to get to grips with as forecasts have been disrupted by several grid operators halting grid connections unexpectedly last year and install forecasts have varied ever since from 6GW to 9GW. 

Not giving public guidance on at least one of these two countries would have been helpful, instead it’s a bit of a joke.

The European figure of around 7GW may well be accurate come June, yet it is already known from official government figures that the UK and Germany accounted for 2.3GW and 1.9GW respectively in 2014. 

At around 4.2GW combined there isn’t much left for the rest of Europe to contribute. 

That said, official figures from some other European countries are trickling out such as Italy (385MW), Portugal, 115MW and Belgium (65MW), bringing the running total to around 4.76GW so far, or put another way we only need to find another 2.24GW to get to EPIA’s 2014 figure for Europe. 

As to the 3GW decline in Europe, much of that comes from just Italy and Germany.

There are other issues that surface with figures touting only 40GW last year and that starts with figures from EPIA that global installs reached at least 37GW in 2013. 

The 8% (3GW) growth being guided by EPIA and a few others is in stark contrast to the top 15 or so module producers' shipments in 2014, which were averaging over 20% and would account for around 27GW of total shipments last year. 

IHS had neatly forecasted global installs for 2014 at around 45GW, around 20% growth over 2013. To hit the 40GW mark, a large number of smaller module manufacturers would have significantly lower shipment levels in 2014 than in 2013.

What is clear is that the early optimism from PV module manufacturers via shipment forecasts for the year did not pan out as expected with many of the tier-one suppliers lowering full-year shipment guidance in the fourth quarter. 

However, that accounted for less than 1GW and the likes of Canadian Solar actually exceeded the high end of its shipment guidance by nearly 300MW, and don’t forget the company has over 50% of its shipments to its own downstream PV power plant business. 

With shipment growth tracking in the 20% range all year, EPIA’s depicted 8% growth suggests a module mountain has been built, and the last time I looked I couldn’t see one. 

So will the real install figure please stand up and be counted or someone please take a picture of the module mountain and send it to me so I can share with the rest of the industry, which would probably give us more transparency than exists right now. 

EPIA forecast in June 2014
IHS was looking for 14.4GW to be installed in Q4 2014 after this chart was released in October 2014.
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