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Off-grid PV back on the map with developing countries

Off-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) power has taken a back-seat in talk about solar power in recent years despite once holding 90% of the total installed capacity worldwide. However, as the thirst for energy increases in regions like Africa, Asia or Latin America, off-grid solar PV energy is experiencing a come-back.

According to Florian Schmidt, project manager of the study Global Off-Grid PV Markets, published by solar energy market researcher EuPD Research: “The rapid population growth as well as a high proportion of the rural population with no access to the grid is causing the attractiveness of the technology to increase.”

Greenpeace has estimated that more than two billion people will receive electricity from off-grid solar PV systems by 2030.

The study looks at for example Africa, which in 1995 held 25% of the solar PV capacity worldwide. However, as demand surged in areas such as Europe, it stagnated in Africa.

According to the EuPD Research study, Africa is still considered to be the continent with the highest potential for development for off-grid PV – particularly South Africa, which in 2008 had an installed capacity of approximately 20 MW. Small solar PV plants with a power output of less than 100 W make up more than 50% of the market, according to survey participants.

These plants are mainly employed in rural regions by private customers. Off-grid solar PV plants are also used for industrial applications like machine operation, water pumps or desalination plants. Systems for public buildings such as hospitals, schools and tourist facilities, as well as small mobile systems like radios or mobile phones are also important.

Study participants say they expect a further increase in the near future particularly within the segment of small solar PV plants in the private or public sector; by 2012 this sector is expected to have a market share of 75%. Moreover small mobile applications as well as solar PV systems for infrastructure are likely to gain importance in South Africa.

However, the study also found that prices for solar PV modules and PV systems in Africa, Asia and Latin America clearly exceed those for on-grid technology in Europe – in Asia and Latin America the price difference is more than 20%.

“The purchase power of the population within the analysed countries is clearly less than in industrial nations. In order to make it possible for the population to use PV plants, several financing instruments must be made available, from micro credits, to micro leasing or social programmes”, says Florian Schmidt.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Solar electricity