Solar PV in perspective - from 2012 to 2014

edited by Gail Rajgor

Part 1: In this series of articles we examine the recent history of the Solar Photovoltaic industry, as well as look forward to 2014. In our first few articles to set the scene we look back to how the PV industry fared in 2012.

In part 1 (below) and part 2, Renewable Energy Focus power generation previews REMIPEG's latest update, carried out in the first four months of 2013 by Lahmeyer International, and presents an overview of the PV industry up until the end of 2012.

In parts 3, 4, and 5, Paula Mints of SPV Market Research takes us through some lessons learned from 2013.

Part 1 and 2 of this series are taken from the July/August 2013 issue of Renewable Energy Focus (REFocus) magazine. For a free subscription, click here.

Part 1: PV in 2012 - Market slowdown for solar PV as protectionism packs a punch

The ongoing economic crisis and regulatory changes in several countries, such as Italy and Germany, continue to cause problems for the global solar photovoltaic (PV) market.

2012 was an especially difficult year for the solar industry as countries tried to protect their PV module manufacturing industries, which led to the introduction of protectionist measures such as anti-dumping regulations against the Chinese PV industry.

The worldwide newly installed PV power capacity reached 28GW in 2012, similar to 2011 (27GW). Europe was again the predominant market in the PV sector that year with 17GW of new installed capacity; comprising roughly 60% of the total newly installed worldwide capacity in 2012. The next largest market was Asia with 7GW, slightly less than half of the European figure. North America followed with 3GW, and finally Oceania contributed 0.8GW.

Summary of the global PV power market, region by region, end of 2012
  Cumulative installed capacity 2012 (GW) Newly installed capacity 2012 (MW) Estimated electricity generation 2012 (TWh)
Europe 66.8 16.8 68
North America 8.2 3.2 14.6
South America <0.1 0 0.1
Asia 16.0 7.0 23.8
Oceania 2.1 0.8 4.7
Africa 0.2 0.0 0.4
World total 93.4
Largest National Market Germany 32.0 Germany 7.6  

Despite the problems 2012 saw some impressive project activity: The largest project was the 145MW Neuhardenberg Solar Park plant inaugurated in October 2012 in Germany, comprising 600,000 polycrystalline PV modules supplied by Talesun Solar and inverters from KACO new energy. The EPC services were provided by Germany's Graess Solartechnik.

The other leading project was the Toul-Rosières Solar Park plant located near Nancy in northeastern France, with an installed capacity of 115MW.

There are also big projects which were under construction in 2012 (and are due to be finished in the next few years), mainly in USA, India and China. One of the biggest solar farms is the 550MW plant Topaz Solar Farm in California which will comprise 9 million PV modules (thin-film technology) made by First Solar. Construction on the project began in November 2011 – it is expected to become fully operational in 2015.

Another remarkable project in the US is located in the Mojave Desert. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550MW plant which includes 8.8 million cadmium telluride thin-film PV modules (again made by First Solar).

India is also making progress with the completion in 2012 of 200MW of the Charanka Solar Park, which is part of the group of PV plants of the Gujarat Solar Park project, slated to reach 1GW when completed.

The major markets in Europe were Germany (7.6GW), Italy (3.4GW), France (1.2GW) and the UK (1.1GW). Together these made 80% of the total newly installed European capacity. Asia was led by China (3.5GW), Japan (2GW) and India (1GW).

European market: 2012 figures

Germany remained the market leader in terms of cumulative (32GW) as well as newly installed capacity after seeing three consecutive years of stable newly installed PV power capacity (7.4-7.6GW). By the end of the third quarter alone, Germany installed 6.12GW of PV – largely driven by a desire to gain from good tariffs.

The country's 2012 Feed-in-Tariff (FiT), calculated depending on the number of installations from the previous quarter, decreased 2.5% per month from November to January. Accordingly, ground-mounted plants up to 1MW received just €0.1440/kWh instead of €0.1515, and parks between 1-10MW received €0.1178/kWh, down from €0.1239.

After the boom in the Italian PV market in 2011, with 9GW of newly installed capacity, expansion slowed in 2012 with just 3GW installed. Part of this was because of the new FiT, Conto Energie V, which had been active since August 2012 when Italy reached its power objectives set out in the Conto Energie IV. It resulted in cuts in generation bonuses for PV installations bigger than 12kW.

The French solar market reached 4GW of newly installed capacity in 2012, 1GW more than in 2011, which represented an increase of 37% over the previous year. Despite the success achieved in France, this country showed a drastic slowdown in the fourth quarter of 2012. Only 75MW was installed, the lowest level for a fourth quarter since 2008.

The UK market was characterised for constant peaks and lulls mainly due to several changes in the country's FiT. Despite this 2012 was not a bad year with 1.1GW of newly connected PV capacity.

Outside Europe

China made a very slow start in 2012 with only 720MW of newly installed power capacity in the first half of the year.

However, it experienced a strong second half with 3.5GW of newly installed capacity. As an example of how the emerging countries are stepping ahead of the European market, the figures of China and Italy can be directly compared in terms of new installed capacity in 2012.

The Chinese PV market could have a robust future as it has created a strong PV module manufacturing industry characterised mainly by low prices, and newly installed capacity was growing at a rate of 70% annually, by the end of 2012. Despite this progress, obstacles appeared, such as the slowdown of the Chinese economy, which is reflected in the banking sector which offered poor credit conditions to PV installations.

Japan was positioned fifth in terms of newly installed capacity worldwide in 2012 with 2GW, but remains top of the pile when it comes to accumulated capacity in the Asian market, with 6.7GW compared to 6.4GW for China.

The Japanese PV market gave good reasons to expect a boom in this sector in the coming years; the Fukushima accident forced the Japanese government to review its overall long term energy strategy. As part of this, Japan introduced the best FiT worldwide in July 2012, with PV systems below 10kW receiving ¥42/kWh (US$0.53 or €0.40) and systems above 10kW receiving ¥40 (∼$0.51 or €0.39). This resulted in a growth to up to $2bn in new investments in renewables.

India contributed with 1GW of newly installed PV capacity in 2012 and the year's important event for the country was the release of the second phase of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) with a 9GW target by 2017. This new initiative removed the local content requirements, which hoped to lower the cost of the PV installations in India.

2012 was a historic year for the US PV market with 3.2GW of newly installed capacity (a record for the US). This represented a 76% growth over 2011 figures and took the total US PV grid-connected capacity up to 7GW. A relevant fact in 2012 was the imposition of US taxes on Chinese panel imports to promote the domestic market.

In part 2: 2012 PV Manufacturer woes...

The REMIPEG databank

With its Renewable Electricity Market, Installed Power and Annual Electricity Generation (REMIPEG), German engineering firm Lahmeyer International has tracked the implementation of renewable electricity capacity around the world since 2008, updating its database annually, with Renewable Energy Focus then publishing the results.

Providing totals for newly installed plant, cumulative capacity, and estimated electricity generation output, country-by-country, for each renewable energy generation source, the databank is compiled using publicly available information along with expert information from consultants in the field.

The authors of the REMIPEG report are Dr. Andreas Wiese, Dr. Patric Kleineidam, Kuno Schallenberg, Florian Remann, Thorben Gunkel, Camilo Varas, Holger Zebner, Gildas Courtet, and Sergi Pedra from Lahmeyer International GmbH; Andrea Stooßa from the Institute of Environmental Technology and Energy Economics, Hamburg University of Technology, and Stadtreinigung Hamburg; and Martin Kaltschmitt, also from the Institute of Environmental Technology and Energy Economics, Hamburg University of Technology.

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