Global solar installations increased by around 5% in 2018 and reached 104.1 gigawatts (GW) according to new figures released by SolarPower Europe released at the SolarPower Summit in Brussels on Wednesday, further putting the lie to previous estimates that 2018 solar installations had failed to reach the same level as last year.
The year 2018 will go down in the solar industry as one of high hopes, bitter realities, and confused numbers. Without rehashing the year once again, in short, there were big expectations that not only would the global solar industry finally break the 100 GW barrier but that it would smash it. These expectations came crashing down, however, when China rewrote its plans for solar in 2018 in May.
Come the New Year, every analyst and their solar-loving dog got to work crunching their particular data sets to determine how much solar was installed in 2018, and the resulting numbers were confusing, at best. The PV Market Alliance predicted at least 98 GW was installed in 2018, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables stated that 2018’s “modest deployment increase … wasn’t enough to crest the 100 gigwatt mark,” while Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that 2018 installations reached as high as 109 GW (and could expand in 2019 to as much as 141 GW).
At the time I was covering these wildly varying reports, I reached out to SolarPower Europe — the region’s member-led solar trade association — which, in my experience, has always proved to be relatively spot-on with its predictions and figures, and is less likely to lose its head. For example, when China announced its solar policy revisions in the middle of 2018, SolarPower Europe remained relatively calm and didn’t dramatically cut its own global solar predictions.
This was partly due to existing assumptions SolarPower Europe had built into its Global Market Outlook 2018-2022. As Michael Schmela, Executive Advisor and Head of Market Intelligence for SolarPower Europe, explained:
We already estimated in the Global Market Outlook published in June 2018 that China’s 531 restructuring program would result in an annual installation decrease from 52.8 GW in 2019 to around 39 GW in 2018 in our Medium Scenario and 46 GW in our High Scenario (which was probably the most optimistic view at that time; finally, 44 GW was installed in China, according to official data from NEA). Moreover, it was obvious that many other markets would bet on solar as it has become increasingly cost-competitive with other power generation sources. We wrote: “On a positive note – we will now see more diversification of solar demand. While in 2016, only seven countries installed over 1 GW, in 2017, the number increased to nine, and this should be 14 in 2018.”
Fast-forward, then, to the SolarPower Summit currently underway in Brussels (March 6-7), where SolarPower Europe published its latest Global Market Outlook in which it showed that global solar power installations increased by around 5% to 104.1 GW in 2018, in comparison to the 99.1 GW installed in 2017. China led the way with 44.1 GW and a market share of 42%, followed by the United States with 11.4 GW and India with 8.3 GW.
“Despite China’s sudden restructuring of its solar programme last year, the global market was strong enough to more than compensate for the temporary slowdown of the world’s largest solar market,” explained Michael Schmela, speaking on Wednesday. “The good news is that many emerging solar markets are embracing solar at a rapid pace and China is already coming back. We are seeing great solar momentum and expect a phenomenal solar year for 2019.”
Unsurprisingly, SolarPower Europe’s primary interest is Europe, and according to its latest Outlook, the 28 Member States of the European Union saw solar installations increase at a much higher rate, increasing by 36% to 8 GW for the year, up from 5.9 GW in 2017. Solar installations in Europe as a whole (including the EU and the rest of Europe) grew by 20% to 11 GW, up from 9.2 GW in 2017.
“The state of solar has dramatically improved in the European Union, illustrated by the EU-28 solar market growing at a much higher pace than the global market,” said Christian Westermeier, President of SolarPower Europe. “The EU has set the stage for solar growth by removing the trade measures on solar panels and providing the right framework for solar to thrive through the Clean Energy Package legislation. Now it’s time to take European solar to the next level by putting in place an industrial competitiveness strategy that will unlock massive investments in the solar sector, create high-tech jobs and provide the most cost-competitive clean power to meet the EU’s energy and climate targets.”
According to SolarPower Europe’s first market estimates for 2018, Germany retook the number one spot after five years as it added nearly 3 GW of new solar in 2018, growing around 68% over 2017. Turkey was the second largest European market, installing approximately 1.6 GW, while the Netherlands came in third with 1.4 GW, the first time it has placed in the top 3.
“As the lowest cost and most easily deployed clean energy technology, solar in Europe has entered a new growth phase,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe. “Now it is key that EU Member States set ambitious national solar targets and develop robust implementation guidelines in their 2030 National Energy and Climate plans.”
These figures are SolarPower Europe’s first estimates and best-guesses based on data from government agencies wherever possible, and member data where needed. The final 2018 numbers and SolarPower Europe’s new 5-year solar demand forecast will be published at the Intersolar Europe trade fair in Munich on 14 May 2019.