The State of Solar

By Sweeney, Brigid | PM Network, June 2014 | Go to article overview

The State of Solar


Sweeney, Brigid, PM Network


Solar energy projects continue their global ascent. From 2000 to 2010, solar's portion of electricity power generation jumped from almost zero to 0.15 percent, according to the International Energy Agency. By 2020, it's expected to hit 1.18 percent of the world total-an eightfold increase.

"Solar's share of the total global power market today is small, but that understates its potential importance in the foreseeable future," Elle Carberry, co-founder and managing director, and Junda Lin, senior analyst, China Greentech Initiative, said in a guest post on Forbes.com.

Its importance lies not just in the foreseeable future, but in the here and now. Installed photovoltaic generating capacity around the world passed the milestone of 100 gigawatts-enough to supply energy for 30 million households-for the first time in 2012, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.

Here is a look at a few of the key solar players:

THE SOLAR KING

Germany

Among countries with solar power, Germany leads the pack. Europe's largest economy accounts for one-third of the world's photovoltaic generation capacity. One-tenth of Germany's electricity comes from the sun-compared to less than 1 percent in the United States. Last year saw the successful completion of a 128-megawatt project, one of the world's most technically advanced photovoltaic plants.

The solar crown does not rest securely on Germany's head, however. Faced with competition from Chinese imports, German solar producers have cut more than half of the country's solar energy jobs since 2012. In addition, as generous government subsidies have led to a bonanza of solar projects, profits at traditional power companies have nosedived. Two of the country's major electric companies have lost about 70 percent of their market value since 2008. To avoid both a glut of solar power and a death spiral at utility companies, Germany, as well as other European countries such as Spain, Italy and France, has scaled back solar subsidies.

Even so, German solar has secured its place as a global success story: Of Europe's 80 gigawatts of installed photovoltaic capacity, 35 come from Germany alone.

A CONTENDER

China

Last year, China installed more solar power than any other country in one year-a record 12 gigawatts. That's more than all the solar power China had ever installed before 2013. To put that in perspective: No country had ever added more than 8 gigawatts of solar power in one year.

Those figures "show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market, now the sleeping dragon has awoken," Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in a statement.

For solar projects in China, the future looks just as sunny as the recent past. Between 2013 and 2015, China will account for one-third of the world's new solar capacity. The government's goal of having 35 gigawatts of installed solar power capacity by the end of 2015 is seven times the 5 gigawatts it had at the end of 2012-and more than the 32 gigawatts installed in Germany at the end of 2012, according to Carberry and Lin.

In December, Trina Solar Ltd. announced plans to build a 1-gigawatt solar power plant that would be the largest in the region of Xinjiang. The fouryear project will help the world's most populous country ease its dependency on coal as its primary power source.

A CONTENDER

United States

The U.S. solar industry is scaling up rapidly. Last year, the United States surpassed China as the world leader in large-scale solar capacity. About US$13 billion was invested in solar projects in 2013, ten times more than in 2007, The New York Times reported. A new U.S. solar installation cropped up every four minutes-compared to one every 10 hours just 12 years earlier.

At this rate, solar could make up almost 10 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 15 yearsfrom practically nothing several years ago. …

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