Frankly, this is something to get used to. If you look at the first chart below, quarterly solar records are being broken almost every quarter these days. Nonetheless, each record is a celebration, each record is an important move forward. And Q1 2014 was definitely worth plenty of celebration. Check out more in this Solar Love repost:
Solarbuzz recently reported that world solar PV power capacity grew by a record 9,000 megawatts (MW) in the 1st quarter of 2014. However, that record isn’t likely to last long. The solar market research company forecasts that every quarter this year will be higher than the one before it.
At the end of Q1 2015, Solarbuzz forecasts that the 12-month total will be over 50,000 MW! For 2014, Solarbuzz is maintaining its forecast of 49,000 MW. However, it wouldn’t be surprised to see the world surpass that.
Meanwhile, another market research firm, IHS, just raised its 2014 forecast to 46,000 MW following the strong 1st quarter. That would equal a 22% increase in the market compared to 2013, IHS notes. The main countries driving global installments during 2014 are widely projected to be China and Japan.
However, solar growth in Japan and the UK was particularly responsible for the record 1st quarter, Solarbuzz notes. “These two countries combined accounted for more than one-third of global solar PV demand in Q1’14 and set new quarterly records for PV deployed.”
“This is the fifth straight year that a quarterly record has been set at the start of the year,” said Michael Barker, senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. “While demand during the first quarter typically sets the low point for the year, deployment levels during this quarter provide an excellent means of benchmarking demand for the rest of the coming year.”
The 1st quarter of the year tends to account for 20% or less of the year’s total.
“With Q1’14 now closed, the trailing 12-month demand suggests that the true size of the industry today is almost 40 GW. By the end of Q1’15, the PV industry will likely break through the pivotal 50 GW barrier, bringing the industry much closer to rational supply and demand levels.”
Solar manufacturers got slammed with financial difficulties in recent years as supply ramped up a great deal and far surpassed demand. However, many of the big players are back to making a profit and have survived that challenging period. Strong demand growth will only further improving their financial security.
“During the past few years, the solar PV industry has been waiting for end-market demand to catch up with the excess manufacturing capacity added between 2010 and 2012,” added Finlay Colville, vice-president of NPD Solarbuzz. “This wait is now coming to an end. As annual demand approaches the 50 GW level, suppliers will finally be able to shift their focus from short-term tactical survival to long-term strategic planning.”
Getting back to IHS, the market research firm projects that China will install a record 12,800 MW in 2014, more than almost any other country will have in total at that time. And that’s about 29% more than the 10 GW that was projected just last year. 8,000 MW of that are supposed to be ground-mounted projects, while the other 4,800 should be distributed rooftop solar power systems. However, it should be noted that there are a number of analysts who don’t think China will be able to log so many rooftop solar power systems. We’ll see.
While the strong 1st quarter may very well have been at play in the revised IHS forecast, the company actually focuses on Chinese announcements as being an important reason for the change.
“IHS previously expressed its doubts about the Chinese government’s capability to reach an ambitious target of 8GW worth of rooftop solar projects in 2014,” said Ash Sharma, senior director of solar research at IHS. “While IHS still predicts this goal will not be met, China’s recent announcement that it will shift its focus to ground-mount projects and increase its installation target for this segment to 6GW has led us to raise our forecast for 2014.”
Notably, mis-forecast China’s 2013 growth.
Indeed, IHS has previously been sceptical of China’s goal of meeting government targets of around 10GW in 2013, forecasting installations of around 7.5GW. However Chinese officials had said installations had exceeded 10GW late last year, while NPD Solarbuzz estimated installations had reached over 11GW.
IHS was not alone in massively missing the installation growth in China last year; Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) undertook a complete u-turn earlier this year, conceding that China was expected to beat Japan in PV installations in 2013, forecasting that China had installed around 12GW in 2013.
The Chinese market seems to be a hard one to judge. A country of a couple billion that is growing fast and can turn on a dime through top-down policies — what makes that such a hard market to estimate?
Another reason IHS notes for its increase in demand is Japan’s fast growth. “According to the market research firm, installations in Japan are expected to increase by 45% to reach 9GW in 2014, up from 6.3GW project for 2013.”
“IHS expects the residential PV market in Japan to decline this year,” Sharma explained. “Although the reduction in Japan’s feed-in-tariff conformed precisely to IHS expectations, other factors will cause the residential market to decline. These factors include the increase in sales tax on domestic PV systems, the expiration of the additional up-front subsidy and the slowdown in new housing construction.”
However, IHS noted that weakness expected in the Japanese residential market would be more than compensated for by the strong commercial rooftop market.
Despite changing forecasts for 2014, IHS is sticking by its medium-term forecasts.
“The long-term IHS outlook for worldwide PV installations remains largely unchanged, with double-digit annual growth predicted for the next five years and total installed capacity exceeding 400GW at the end of 2018,” Sharma noted. “IHS has identified 32 countries that will install more than 100MW this year, and seven of these surpassing 1GW.”
While government policies are still important for solar growth, more and more regions are reaching or approaching incentive-free grid parity. Once that is the norm, solar forecasting might get a bit simpler. On the other hand, that could make forecasting even more difficult. Government targets and policy limits are fairly easy to follow, but what will happen when consumers see solar as a no-brainer even without government support?
Top image credit: NPD Solarbuzz Quarterly report, March 2014
Other images via PV-Tech