Utility-Scale Solar Installations Surged For 5th Consecutive Year, Passed 10 GW

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Worldwide utility-scale solar energy installations surged for a fifth consecutive year in 2014, as per new provisional figures from Wiki-Solar.org.

This continuing surge in installations was aided by notable growth in the South American and African markets, but the big dogs were still Asia and North & Central America.

Wiki solar 2014

The new solar capacity added in 2014 topped 10 GW according to the figures. This number is likely to rise somewhat as the official figures come in — these should be available to the public in March.

Despite the notable growth in installations seen throughout most of the world in 2014, it wasn’t universal. Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, etc) saw only very limited growth. Given Australia’s recent policy reversals with regard to renewables (including solar), this certainly isn’t a surprising reality.

The surge in installations seen in Africa in 2014 is largely down to the growth in South Africa — which saw the region’s largest project, the 74 MW Sishen plant, come online in December.

The growth in South America is a similar story, with a large portion of the new capacity coming online in a single country — Chile in this case. At least thirteen new solar plants came online in Chile in 2014.


In Asia — Japan, China, and India all saw good and continued growth, setting the stage for that continent to surpass North America and take the top spot.

Despite the growth in Asia, the USA is still at the top of the pile for the time being, with the largest solar project in the world, the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm in California, coming online in November.

Over in Europe, the decline of the last two years was finally stemmed, thanks largely to a good amount of growth in the UK.

The coming year looks likely, in many ways, to continue these trends, with the major changes likely being in South America (where Brazil will begin building out a lot more solar power), in the US (where the future of tax incentives is uncertain and likely to result in another big year for utility-scale solar power installations), and in the UK (where large-scale solar will soon become ineligible for the country’s “Renewables Obligation”).

Image Credit: Wiki-Solar

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James Ayre

James Ayre'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.

James Ayre has 4830 posts and counting. See all posts by James Ayre

16 thoughts on “Utility-Scale Solar Installations Surged For 5th Consecutive Year, Passed 10 GW

  • It would be nice to have context for these numbers. 10 gigawatts per year. How many gwh is required to provide say 30% of the world electrical demand; over the next 15 years say. Mostly for amateur readers this kind of perspective gives us some notion of reality. Perhaps such general figures should be posted in the Clean technica banner at the top of every page… a little handful of essential facts and numbers.

    • For reference: China alone had an installed power capacity of 1250GW in 2013, the USA 1000GW. In short, this is a drop in the ocean.

      Fortunately, other renewables are growing much, much faster (and from a higher starting point): China alone installed 40GW of hydropower in 2014.

      Wind and hydropower are growing at a stellar pace, and hydro’s growth is all the more impressive because it starts from such a high existing level.

      • We probably need a doomsday clock ticking off the time to the red danger zone of green house gas parts per million and the amount of terawatts of renewables being installed. A nice simple visual that a kid could understand could help light a fire under everybody’s….

        • While that would be nice, it’s just impossible to dumb things down to that level.

          For starters, we don’t know exactly how many tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent we can afford – we don’t know exactly how responsive some major sinks like the ocean are, we cannot exactly quantify the impact of other greenhouse gases relative to carbon dioxide and so on.

          And then there’s the question of relating renewables to carbon emissions.

          You’d have to know how many of each existing electricity source the renewable capacity displaced (a solar farm that replaces a nuclear plant would slightly increase emissions, for example, whereas that same plant would significantly reduce emissions if it displaced NG and hugely so if it displaced coal).

          And last but not least, we don’t how much GHG we are emitting. CO2, by far the biggest one, can be quantified fairly easily: it almost exclusively comes from three sources: fossil fuels (of which fairly detailled production data exist), land use change (which can be tracked accurately by satellite) and industrial processes like cement making (again, good statistics available).

          But others are more murky: methane leakage from NG generation and distribution (often blamed on fracking, but inherent to all methods of production) is hard to measure, let alone seperate from natural leakage from reservoirs.

          N2O emissions from agriculture are also hard to measure: depending on local soil quality and agricultural practices, it can be nearly zero (if nitrification is either complete or largely absent) or extremely high (if incomplete denitrification occurs).

          A ‘doomsday clock’ would require perfect statistics, which we don’t have. The models we have are good, but have to interpreted with care.

          Scientists are used to working with uncertainty. The general public isn’t. They’ll want a clear, hard number and we can’t give them that. So either we’d have to present a guesstimate as fact, leaving the makers of the clock open to attack (FUD) by denialists, or the clock would have to present a nuanced picture, thereby losing the advantage of simplicity.

          • Almost complete. You left out water vapor which is also a GHG though not normally considered a pollutant. As the air warms it holds exponentially more water vapor. It doubles every 10 deg. C.

            The recent rains in CA were astonishing in their intensity. I have lived here for 35 years and neither I nor any old-timers can recall such intensity. It used to be rain in CA was a very light rain – intermittent and hardly more than a heavy mist. This was a heavy downpour for long periods like I’ve seen only in tropical countries.

          • I left out water vapor because:

            a) The hydrological cycle is influenced by humans only to a very limited degree (at a global scale that is, effects on a local scale can be large), unlike the nitrogen and carbon cycle.

            b) There is a hard cap set on how much water vapor can be contained in the atmosphere at any time at a given temperature, unlike the concentration of other GHG’s that can increase without limit (in theory).

            c) The effects of water vapor are hugely variable in space and time, even in an interval as short as a few hours.

            In short, water is too unpredictable to model and too local to matter (some will wind, some will lose. Some are born to sing the blues). That is to say, it is irrelevant based on our current knowledge of the climate.

          • While that would be nice, it’s just impossible to dumb things down to that level.

            A: Picture of cars, planes, power stations, cows farting etc.

            B: Equals sign.

            C: Picture of a v’hot greenhouse with dead people and plants in it.

          • Ah. But how many power stations? And which type? And which plants would you depict? The ones that would benefit from climate change (corn is a good example), or the ones that would lose (wheat for example)?

            Any analysis that makes no attempt at quantifying is worthless.

          • What’s to quantify, we need to stop using fossil fuels 100% completely, the analysis has been done, the picture is symbolic, it doesn’t matter what plants are depicted.

            Do you not understand ‘greenhouse effect’?

          • Do you not understand that global warming is not a discrete variable but a continuous one? And that while fossil fuels are the biggest single source of greenhouse gases, they are far from the only contributor to the antropogenic portion of climate change?

            You seem to suggest that the science is done and dusted and the way ahead is clear. But in reality, many questions remain:

            a) What target do we set? 2°C is commonly agree upon but already likely to be missed.

            b) How much GHG can we emit before we reach that target? We have a fairly good ballpark estimate already, but without more detailed knowledge about the responsiveness of sinks such as the ocean we cannot quantify it exactly.

            c) How many GHG do we emit each year? The emissions from fossil fuel burning can be computed easily because good production statistics exist and emissions from land use change can be tracked and computed with decent accuracy too. Other emissions, such as N2O from agriculture and methane leaks, however, are not yet well understood or measured.

            You seem to have a poor understanding of climate change, which is odd for a non-denialist.

            Climate change, much like other earth and environmental sciences, is a field with few certainties. It depends heavily on incredibly complex, continuously improving models that do not yield hard numbers but ranges of plausible values.

            That climate change exists is beyond doubt. That humans are causing the largest part of it is equally clear. However, there are few certainties on the numbers front (speed, magnitude and spatio-temporal distribution of change).

            Without that, a simple ‘doomsday clock’ cannot be constructed.

            Just to be clear, I’m not arguing for complacency: a fossil fuel phaseout should be achieved as soon as realistically possible. All I’m saying is that you have an overly simplistic picture of climate change. Science, with the exception of math and physics perhaps, does not deal in absolute certainty and exact numbers.

      • Yes, this (though undoubtedly good news) is still far short of where we need to be. Earlier this year, I wrote:

        For the first time, one stabilization wedge worth of wind power has been projected as a realistic possibility. The Global Wind Energy Council released a report showing the world reaching an installed generation capacity of 2 Terawatts in 2030. Of course, that number is an estimate, depending upon policy choices made around the world. But even their ‘moderate scenario’ had capacity exceeding that mark by 2040.

        That’s good news–but still considerably short of what is needed to avoid the 2 C world. The 2 TW mark is just one stabilization wedge; we needed 7, as of the writing of [Mark Lynas’s] Six Degrees.

        Meanwhile in the observed world, global wind capacity reached 318 Gigawatts at the end of 2013, with a further 45 expected in the current year, for an expected 2014 cumulative total of 363 GW.

        That’s probably somewhat cryptic, so let me add that I’m talking about Mark Lynas’s book-length summary of possible effects of climate change, and he is talking at this particular point about the ‘stabilization wedge’ strategy of emissions mitigation. Links:



        Solar is still not in that ballpark–but the good news is that with prices continuing to drop it seems likely that growth will continue to track an exponential curve for a while. If so, it (relatively) soon could approach the sorts of adoption levels we need.

        And solar is the option that makes the most sense at an individual level. Wind is great, but most homeowners are not going to put up a turbine. I’m not thinking that individual adoption of any technology is likely to be the proverbial silver bullet, but it is nice to have one technology for which many people–even in some cases impoverished villagers in the developing world–can adopt without utter dependence on the political process. (Such as it may be where they/we live!)

      • ” …other renewables are growing much, much faster..” Data please I don’t believe it. The historic trend growth rate for all solar pv is over 40%, unmatched by anything else. You are of course right about the higher base of wind and hydro, which means that solar is still not the leader in adding effective new capacity (normalised for capacity factors). But it won’t be long. The IEA for one can do compound interest.

        • In absolute numbers, not in percentage. Which is what matters, since only absolute numbers determine the mitigated carbon emissions.

          Wind has actually seen 40% growth rates in its earliest years (Germany achieved nearly 100% before 1995 and easily met 40% for years after that, same story for Denmark and other early bloomers. And that was in a time when financing mechanisms, project management and other amenities solar developers now take for granted where almost non-existant.

          There’s one thing you can always be sure of: exponential growth is a short lived phenomenon.

          And of course, capacity is a meaningless number. 1MW of solar capacity equates nearly 4-8 MW of hydro or 2-4MW of wind at average CF.

          • To make these numbers sensible to the ordinary person we probably have to stop using the term and concept “capacity factor”. Unless you are a grid engineer it is not friendly. The significance of the capacity factor of PV vanishes with battery storage, the electricity is available 24 hours a day. We need to have simple bottom line talk i.e residential cost per kwh. Or we need to talk about “total yearly production” this allows us to easily compare different technologies. Especially unhelpful are abbreviations like “the CF of so and so is…” Its ok for industry magazines, but this topic of energy is no longer for specialists, the average person needs to be conversant with this. By the way these obscurities are no accident, much money and power is obtained by mystification.

          • Much money and power, but also much accuracy. There is always a loss of brevity and/or nuance involved when you fail to use proper technical terms (which exist for a reason; engineers are hardly the type that like to complicate things linguistically if they can help it).

            It’s a uniquely Anglo-Saxon idea that science and technology have to be dumbed down in general discourse. As Craig Morris, who writes on the Energiewende in Germany for a living, once said: ‘in Germany, scientists except the public to step up to their level when they talk’, and that didn’t prevent Germans from being at least as scientifically aware as Americans (which is to say, still woefully inadequate).

            As for your actual point:

            – How much storage capacity is installed per unit of solar capacity? It’s vanishingly small at the moment and will remain so until renewable penetration massively increases and battery costs fall massively.

            – Total yearly production is a good idea in principle, but even technical sites often err in the difference between ‘W’ and ‘Wh’. It just shifts the difficulty from having to know what capacity factor means to having to know the difference between capacity and production.

    • I agree but I think it would be a little depressing to learn how far we have to go.

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