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Comment: Feed-In Tariff reductions in Europe to change solar PV market

IHS Research

The period from 2010 to 2012 is shaping up to be one of significant transformation for the European solar photovoltaic (PV) industry as it confronts regulatory incentive revisions, expanding market development opportunities and scaling competition from better financed and more robust power players, says IHS Research.

European solar PV markets are forecasted to add as much as 15.5 GW from 2010 to 2012 at an average of 5 GW per year. In the longer term, the solar PV sector in Europe is expected to maintain its growth trajectory from an expected 6.3 GW in 2010 toward 101 GW of installed capacity by 2025, according to a new IHS Emerging Energy Research market study: Europe Solar PV Markets and Strategies: 2010-2025.

"In domino-like fashion, Europe's governments are revising their feed-in tariff (FiT) schemes and permitting procedures in 2010 to keep pace with PV's rapid technology and cost advances," says IHS Research Director Reese Tisdale, one of the study's authors.

"Feed-in tariffs have been instrumental in getting the Europe PV sector off the ground to date. These schemes are evolving rapidly in their designs to shape both the size and content of the market going forward."

The case of Germany

Considered the epicentre of the global solar PV industry, the German solar PV market faces significant changes in coming months due to proposed revisions to the feed-in tariffs expected to be enacted by the end of 2010.

As a result, German solar PV development is surging ahead of the proposed tariff reductions. While Germany is among the most cost-competitive markets in Europe, reduced feed-in tariff rates will force players to further reduce system costs.

Other markets such as Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic are poised to follow suit with expansive tariff revisions planned in 2010. Despite tariff revisions, Germany will continue to dominate global solar PV build-out, and continued development in Italy, France, and Belgium will be also pivotal in driving the industry forward through scale, technology improvements, and deeper experience for developers, according to Tisdale.

"Europe is no longer a one-market PV industry. With development focused almost entirely on Germany several years ago, the European PV market has now diversified to five or six active countries-ultimately to stabilise the market and dampen risk," says Tisdale.

New entrants

Scaling solar PV activity in European markets outside of Germany has propelled a new group of utilities and power players into the industry forefront. Leading utilities and renewable players Electricité de France (EDF), and Enel are at the forefront of large-scale solar PV deployment, particularly in France and Italy, leveraging their renewables success and experience to position for broader international competition.

As competition increases in the downstream development segment, a growing number of international suppliers are challenging the more entrenched European companies for market share. Leading this charge has been the rising presence of lower-cost Asian manufacturers.

Furthermore, the recent oversupply of the global solar PV module market, technology and manufacturing improvements, and economies of scale has led to a dramatic reduction in solar PV system costs in 2009 and 2010. Adding to this positive cost trend, the increased positions of larger industrial players such as Siemens, ABB and GE are expected to have an additional impact on the solar PV sector.

Shift towards Asia

"Over the past 24 months, the makeup of the PV market has shifted dramatically with the growing presence of Asian suppliers squeezing traditional European suppliers," adds Tisdale.

"At the heart of this change are Chinese companies, led by Suntech, Yingli, Trina, SolarFun and Canadian Solar, who are gaining market share through low-cost modules."

Through the first quarter of 2010, 8 of Europe's top 15 solar module suppliers are Asia-based highlighting a shift toward a more global supply chain from the more entrenched German suppliers that have been so successful in the past, according to the study.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets