Clean Power Solar PV panels

Published on April 11th, 2013 | by James Ayre


Total Global Solar PV Capacity Now Approaching Or Over 100 GW

April 11th, 2013 by  

Editor’s note: Solar power is growing at a very rapid clip. If the only power plants we had were power plants build within the past two years, we’d have more solar power capacity than power capacity from any other source (of course, that’s if we’re including rooftop solar power systems). Read the Solar Love repost below for some more fun facts and context.

Total global solar photovoltaic capacity is fast approaching the 100 gigawatt (100,000 megawatt) milestone, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. The report notes that even with some uncertainty present about the future state of photovoltaics in the European and Chinese markets, that global installed capacity will almost definitely hit the 100 gigawatt (GW) milestone within the year. In fact, it likely already has, probably sometime within the first quarter.

Furthermore, here’s a fact that is not well known: more solar PV power capacity was installed in 2011 than power capacity from any other source. And the same was true in 2012.

Solar panels in the Alps.

Solar panels in the Alps.
Image Credit: now picnic / / CC BY-NC-ND

The new report states that a total of 28.4 GW of new solar photovoltaic capacity were installed during 2012, which brings total global capacity up to 89.5 GW.

PV-Tech continues: “The report, Snapshot of Global PV by the International Energy Agency, looked at 23 countries. It said that another estimated 7 GW of capacity is in the pipeline which would increase the total to 96.5. GW from 2011’s 28.9 GW. And the agency said that with installations worldwide difficult to quantify with precision, the 100GW milestone has already been passed in the first quarter of this year.”

There is some disparity, though, between the new IEA report and other recent analyses, such as those from the market research firm IHS, and NPD Solarbuzz. IHS’s newest report estimated global PV installations in 2012 at 31.4 GW, and NPD Solarbuzz estimated 29 GW.

Continuing on with the report’s contents: Europe currently represents 59% of the global market, but rapid growth in the Asia Pacific region and the Americas is lessening that difference. The Middle East and Africa are both regions “in development,” but with great potential. China was the second-largest PV market for new installations in 2012, beating out the US and Italy. And China is now the third-largest PV market in terms of total capacity.

Gaëtan Masson, Operating Agent for Task 1 IEA-PVPS, stated: “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.”

“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.”

Impressively, for the second straight year, photovoltaic solar PV was the leading source of new electricity capacity installed, beating out wind, gas, coal, and nuclear. Some other nice stats: Italy now receives at least 5.75% of its electricity from PV, Europe as a whole receives about 2.5% of its electricity from PV, and Australia has now passed the 1% mark.

These numbers are all expected to rise significantly in the coming years as PV becomes more economically viable (in particular, in the “global sunbelt” countries). The rate of adoption on the individual- and community-level scale is expected to continue rising steeply also, especially in rural areas where electricity is currently unavailable or unreliable.

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.”

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • The average growth is over 33%. Without subsidies, the growth would not have happened. However, automation is almost at the point of cranking out cheap solar panels 24/7. Also, a little subsidy for the continuing tech development of solar manufacturing does not hurt the economy. In fact, it will help it greatly in the long run. Consider the balance between lessor subsidies and greater manufacturing capacity. What will the average growth rate be?

    What would happen if it is just 22% over the next 40 years? We will have to work with terrawatts of capacity. 90GW = .09TW.

    .09TW x 1.22 = .1098

    Now, just keep pressing enter (to multiply the previous number by 1.22)
    A pattern of exponential growth emerges. After 40 “enters” (years) at a sustained 22% growth rate, total global installed global capacity would be…

    Over 250 TERRAWATTS ! Divide that by 5 to get an approximate 24/7 power generation capacity of about 50TW which should include the energy costs of storage as well. Currenetly, the total global generating capacity from ALL sources is far less than 50TW.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s unlikely that exponential growth can be sustained. We see that sort of change during the early stages of a new technology but then it slows down due to the practical issues of creating much larger production year after year.

      Exponential in the early years and then, let’s hope, a very steep straight line until we approach “enough” and the last part of the S-shaped curve appears.

  • Pingback: Italy Now Has 16.7 GW Of Installed Solar PV Capacity | CleanTechnica()

  • saurdigger

    There are a couple developments I’m happy to see — in wind, it’s developments like GE’s new 2.5MW turbine that expands wind developments into areas with lower class wind developments, allowing the continuation of strong wind power generation development with greater efficiency and capacity factors at all wind speeds.

    The second is the very, very, VERY nice exponential growth development I’m starting to see with solar. 1% globally seems low, but we’re reaching tipping points in some places where it’s cheaper to generate solar energy, without rebates, than tap into the regular grid and can ameliorate some of the predicted rise in total pollution from developing countries while still increase quality of life factors. As exponential growth picks up, products can go from something people don’t think about to something people see everywhere.

    • Bob_Wallace

      GE is testing out a new blade design (lightweight metal frame covered with a ‘skin’). They expect it to greatly cut blade cost. GE, IIRC, is also the company that’s figured out how to let turbines share information across a wind farm and use that info to increase output.

      Solar is crossing the cost threshold. Up until now it took something more than finances alone to get solar installed. We’re now at the place where solar is going to be installed for the simple reason that the finances work.

  • Otis11

    1% of global electricity comes from PV? That’s unacceptably low. Why in the world is anyone talking about market maturity already??? Sure, in a few isolated instances where it’s over 50% of the market you might have to make some fundamental changes to the grid to make a difference, but seriously? Even in Italy it’s not significant enough to do much more than demand smoothing in the country as a whole.

    Ok… I’m going to stop before I start.

    • “Ok… I’m going to stop before I start.” – ha 😀

      But yeah, I agree that far too much emphasis is placed on “what we need when the market is saturated with solar” — we’re really not close to that point yet, but focusing on it makes a lot of people think that we need those things now.

      • Otis11

        Seriously, I was thinking that was a legitimate concern from the way I hear people talk about it, and while there are legitimate concerns to be had (all of which can be solved by some fairly simple changes to the grid, but are costly up front – just like anything else) at this rate the world as a whole won’t have high enough solar to cause those issues in 20 years or so… at the MINIMUM!

        Sheesh… pick up the pace of solar installation and bring those back up when we’re within 3 years of 70% renewables. Until then, the issues are rather minuscule. Now, to be fair, that does make some assumptions that won’t apply to every part of the grid, but this is just silly.

        • Agreed. It’s a very good/useful academic pursuit, or R&D, but it shouldn’t be hyped as it is much of the time.

          However, home storage (which could revolutionize the grid a bit) and EV storage are of course worth quite a bit of ink.

          Btw, from our coverage of the major University of Delaware & Delaware Technical College global renewable energy report:

          “the report found that, creating more electricity than required during regular hours to meet high energy use (but during low wind hours) would have lower costs compared to storing the excess energy for higher consumption later (of course, this is based on the assumption we won’t see any storage breakthroughs in that time).”

          • Otis11

            Oh, absolutely, storage on the grid could increase efficiency of every energy generation means out there (except hydro, as it is already on demand…) so it’s definately a plus and worth talking about, but the way many articles present it as a necessity for renewables is… uninformed at best, intentionally misleading at worst.

            And by all means – I think all of the storage is worth discussing, the issue is presenting it as a necessity within the next 20-30 years.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Renewables aren’t distributed equally over all grids. We may have some grids that will need storage sooner than in 20 years.

            If ~40% wind/solar penetration is a rough estimate for when storage is needed the bottom end of that range might be more like 10 years.

            Interestingly renewables seem to have postponed new storage in Switzerland. There were plans underway to build more pump-up but renewables have lessened the supply/demand differential and cut the price spread. They reported that unless the price differential was at least 5 euro cents (~6.5 US cents) new storage wouldn’t earn enough money to make it a good investment.

          • Otis11

            Yeah I realize that there are some grids where it is an issue already, but these are the exceptions… Unless we do a whole lot of things right, there aren’t going to be all that many of these exceptions anytime soon.

            I’m just a little miffed that the media is pointing out the exception as an example when it’s a statistical anomaly at this point. Yes there are lessons we can learn, but the way they present it, it actually falls under mis-information IMO.

          • Yep, I think 99% of it comes from people being misinformed (and journalists thriving on controversy). Of course, the 1% seeding it know what they are doing.

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