With 70% of new PV solar systems in 2009, Europe continues to dominate

Almost three-quarters of all new solar systems worldwide were installed in Europe in 2009, according to a new report.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Almost three-quarters of all new solar systems worldwide were installed in Europe in 2009, according to a new report.

According to the ninth annual Photovoltaics Status Report published on Monday by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, the EU continues to dominate the solar industry in terms of applications: of 7.4 gigawatts (peak electricity) of newly-installed photovoltaic cells across the globe, 5.8 GW was located in Europe.

It's not just new installations, either: that capacity added to Europe's existing solar infrastructure to bring its cumultative installed PV generation capacity to 16 gigawatts -- about 70 percent of the world total of 22 GW.

So how much is a gigawatt worth, you ask? It is estimated that one GW of capacity provides enough electricity for roughly 250,000 households for one year.

More quick facts about Europe's domination:

  • 27.5 GW of new power capacity was constructed in the EU in 2009. About 21 percent was PV-based -- 5.8 GW an increase from 5.1 GW in 2008.
  • Most of the EU's growth in 2009 occurred in Germany: 3.8 GW added, for a cumulative total of 9.8 GW, the most of any single nation in the world. (No. 2 is Spain, with 3.5 GW.)

Why are Germany and Spain so far ahead? Renewable energy legislation, according to the report.

Here are the top six nations for solar PV growth in 2009:

  • Germany: 3.8 GW (cumulative 9.8 GW)
  • Italy: 0.73 GW (cumulative 1.2 GW)
  • Japan: 0.48 GW (cumulative 2.6 GW)
  • United States: 0.46 GW (cumulative 1.65 GW)
  • Czech Republic: 0.41 GW (cumulative 0.46 GW)
  • Belgium: 0.3 GW (cumulative 0.36 GW)

To put the nascent PV market into perspective, however, it should be noted that just 0.4 percent of all supplied electricity in the EU came from PV in 2009.

Worldwide, PV-supplied electricity is just 0.1 percent of the total.

But when it comes to producing solar PV cells, however, it's Asia that dominates, not Europe. Worldwide production of PV cells has increased by 56 percent year-over-year, to 11.5 gigawatts in 2009.

Here are the major players in 2009:

  • China: 4.4 GW (2.4 GW in 2008)
  • Taiwan: 1.6 GW (0.8 GW in 2008)
  • Malaysia: 0.72 GW (0.16 GW in 2008)

The entire EU accounted for 2 GW in 2009. The year before, it produced 1.9 GW.

Several companies scaled back or altogether canceled plans to expand PV production, but according to the report, new entrants in the field -- "notably large semiconductor or energy-related companies" -- has helped fill the gap.

Overall, the solar market is moving from a supply-driven market to a demand-driven one. That's good news, since oversupply was a chief concern two years ago when production was high and demand suddenly dropped off from a global recession. (The imbalance led to deep price cuts, to the tune of 50 percent in two years, across the industry.)

It appears now that the slack is finally almost gone.

A few more key industry findings:

  • Wafer-based silicon remains the main technology for solar cells, with 80 percent market share in 2009.
  • Thin-film solar market share has increased from 6 percent in 2005 and 10 percent in 2007 to between 16 and 20 percent in 2009.
  • Concentrating photovoltaics is "growing at a fast pace" but quite new.
  • The diversity of existing PV technologies is nothing but good news for the solar industry, allowing for a natural selection-like process to take place as tech matures.

Data for the study was assembled from a survey of more than 300 companies worldwide.

Illustration: European solar PV potential. (PVGIS)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards