Solar power plant in Crimea, Ukraine. Photo by Zachary Shahan | CleanTechnica.

Solar Installation Growth Expected to Reach 700 GW by 2025

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According to Andries Wantenaar of Rethink Energy, approximately 330 GW of solar modules were manufactured globally during 2022. Wantenaar expects that these modules will primarily be installed in 2023, with worldwide solar installation growth of 330 GW or more this year. Wantenaar quotes a Trendforce analysis that argues “351 GW will be installed worldwide in 2023, with a 53.4% growth rate.”

Solar polysilicon prices dropped immensely in recent years, then bounced up as supply couldn’t keep up with demand, and seem to be dropping again a bit as production capacity is increased. “Since 2022 the price of polysilicon has halved, indicating the expected catchup of supply to demand. But then the price leaped back up by 50%, so to 75% of the peak 2022 price, a volatility caused in part by China’s Spring Festival. We expect the price to fall once more from March through to October, but this resurgence indicated that demand is not overawed even when monthly production of polysilicon is enough to serve 45 GW a month.”

Chinese production of solar modules is rapidly expanding, despite the volatility in polysilicon prices. Rethink Energy expects that China will produce between 432 and 540 GW of solar panels in 2023.

“So 330 GW will be built this year and 540 GW manufactured, to be deployed in 2024 — a second concurrent 50%+ annual growth figure. Then — what about the manufacturing figure for 2024, which is also the deployment figure for 2025 — can it reach 700 GW?” he queries. I would add that solar panels are being manufactured in other countries as well, and will add to the production and future installation numbers.

The only solar panel manufacturer in Australia is Tindo Solar, founded in 2011 by Adrian Ferraretto. Tindo’s name comes from the Kaurna Aboriginal word for “sun.” Their production plant manufactures about 60 MW per year and is based in Adelaide. Tindo Solar accounts for about 1% of solar panels installed in Australia.

Andries posits a 12-month delay between manufacture and installation. Of course, this timeframe will vary depending on many factors — shipping time, incentives, security concerns, etc.

“If, as we expect, polysilicon product capacity grows from 1.2 million tons to 2 million tons by the end of 2023, then to 2.6 million tons by the end of 2024 — then with a 90% capacity factor for output at those facilities, plus the relatively small imports from the West, that’s 2.17 million tons. At a rate of 2.6 grams per Watt, which may be an overestimate, that is enough to manufacture 834 GW.”

Polysilicon is the hardest part of the supply chain to develop. It had a development time of 24 months before the price hit $40 a kilogram, and then that was reduced to 18 months. Production lines for other components of solar modules can be developed within 9 months. Even with the possibility of other issues impinging on production, China should be able to produce 750 GW of solar panels in 2024. What’s made in 2024 should be installed in 2025.

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Questions abound as to the feasibility of this prediction. Will demand continue to increase? Will there be a company-destroying glut? Will overcapacity lead to bankruptcies? With the prediction only looking forward 2 years, we will soon know. Next year probably. 2024 will confirm or deny these predictions.

“The limiting factors that define the maximum possible scale of solar installations are profitability, workforce, and grid connection, with a fourth limit being accompanying energy storage. Land availability exists, but rooftop availability is not yet a limiting factor at the national level, excepting perhaps in Singapore.”

Module supply will not be a limiting factor over the next 24 months. Grid connection may prove a limiting factor in the utility-scale solar sector. Australia is struggling with this after 10 years of neglect by a climate change denying, renewable energy opposing federal government. But is working hard to open the floodgates between the states.

Rethink Energy provides the example of Vietnam’s rapid expansion of solar power and its effect on the grid: “Vietnam in 2020 provided a fun experimental view of what happens when a country crams as much solar as possible onto its grid. The country installed 5 GW one year and then 15 GW the next, and ended up with around 5% curtailment, much higher for certain locales and projects. So 20 GW was how much it could suddenly add….”

Australia has also had issues with curtailment, as South Australia (home of the Tesla Big Battery) produces more energy than it requires and the transmission lines to Victoria can’t handle the load from the solar installation growth.

“Vietnam’s population is 100 million, and its GDP per capita (PPP) was $12,200 in 2021, while the global average was $18,600. Per capita electricity consumption is one-third of the global average, but the rate of growth is four times the global average. So Vietnam should rate above its population for capacity additions — so let’s multiply by 40, not by the 80 suggested to get from Vietnamese population to global population. If Vietnam can suddenly install 20 GW, the world can suddenly install — 800 GW. And even Vietnam, with a brief ludicrous subsidy of $93.5 per MWh, didn’t cram it quite into a single year.

“In a 600 GW+ global annual installation scenario, China can install its customary one-third share — its grid, with around $80 billion invested a year, can handle 200 GW of solar. But other markets, especially the EU and US, will soon hit the buffers on their grids. Some have already, such as the Netherlands. Large-scale transmission upgrades … one in Australia’s Victoria state, the other in New York State in the US — take years to complete and represent a much longer delay than the polysilicon bottleneck will prove to have been. Which is another reason the market will swing towards distributed solar.”

As I have written previously, distributed solar with batteries provides energy security. It looks like the world is on track to 750 GW of solar installation growth in 2025. Governments and utilities had better start rolling out the ways that power can get to the people.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 750 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth