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Global solar PV market is breaking all sorts of records

SolarPower Europe’s new Global Market Outlook report says solar PV installation increased 18% in 2020 compared to the previous year, despite COVID-19 induced lockdowns.

The report provides market intelligence for the global sector for 2020 and forecasts capacity for 2021-2025. It said 138,2GW of solar was installed during 2020, another global annual installation record for the world’s solar PV sector.

This pushed global cumulative solar capacity to 77,3GW and market projects put the sector on track to reach the terawatt scale by 2022. At this rate, under optimal conditions, the world will reach 2TW by 2025.

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Aristotelis Chantavas, SolarPower Europe President, said the past year was a record-setting one for the global solar sector, with the technology remaining on a strong and steady path despite the difficulties arising from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Solar’s growth confirmed its dominance among all newly installed power generation technologies, reaching a 39% global share, which means that more than every third power plant installed in 2020 came from solar. The message from this Global Market Outlook is crystal clear: a solar-powered future is well on the way. In order to remain on this path, we need to ensure the right permitting processes for smooth development and the right regulatory frameworks for electrification and renewables integration,” said Chantavas.

During 2020, 18 countries added more than 1GW of solar, compared to 17 during 2019 and 11 countries in 2018. The next four years should see even more solar installed, crossing 200GW annual installation level by 2022 and reaching 29 markets adding more than 1GW by 2023.

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Walburg Hemetsberger, SolarPower Europe CEO, said the solar PV market surprised everyone by exceeding all expectations to set a new installation record, despite the severe consequences of the pandemic. “Last year, even the most optimistic market analysts were forecasting a market decline and yet solar proved its resilience and unstoppable growth trajectory by growing 18%.

“We now expect new annual installed capacities to reach 266GW in 2025 in our medium-ambition scenario. To put this into perspective, only six years ago, in 2015, this was the world’s total installed solar power generation fleet,” explained Hemetsberger.

The Global Market Outlook forecasts cumulative grid-connected solar power capacities to reach 1,870GW by 2025, according to the most likely scenario. Under optimal conditions, the world could operate PV generation plant capacities as large as 2,147TW by the end of 2025.

In the Medium Scenario, it is expected that total global installed PV generation capacity will pass the following milestones over the next five years: 900GW in 2021; 1.1TW in 2022; 1.3TW in 2023; 1.6TW in 2024; and 1.8TW in 2025.

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Michael Schmela, SolarPower Europe head of market intelligence, said: “By next year we anticipate the global solar market increase by 25% to 203GW, the first time annual PV installations will cross the 200GW level. This is particularly impressive considering that crossing the 200GW threshold in 2022 would occur only five years after the 100GW level was reached. With COVID-19 vaccination rates increasing, and silicon supply issues resolved, the coming years will be sure to see many solar installation records broken.

“While it is certainly a cause for celebration that solar keeps surprising us with larger installation numbers, considering the fact that 70% of global power still comes from non-renewable polluting energy, we need much more ambition from policymakers to enable the industry to accelerate deployment, to fulfil the complete potential of solar and meet the Paris Agreement targets,” said Schmela.

Africa’s place in the global solar PV market

SolarPower Europe’s Global Market Outlook notes the African continent’s solar PV market was dominated by South Africa, which exceeded 1GW of deployed for the first time. South Africa’ installed 1.3GW of solar PV power, a 154% improvement over 2019.

“South Africa has seen the start o a solar renaissance under its current president. After solar project PPAs from the 4th round tender in 2015 were finally signed in 2018, an Integrated Resource Plan with a 6GW by 2030 solar target was passed in 2019, and a 5th round tender launched in 2021,” reads the report.

It points out off-grid solar is of particular importance to sub-Saharan Africa, given the energy access rate in this part of the world during 2019 was only 46%. The report posits that the proportion of off-grid solar in the region will grow as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic manifest themselves. “There are several more established off-grid markets in the region, such as Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania. More recently, newer markets have also seen significant growth as the cost of off-grid solar has dropped. This has also led to the integration of off-grid solar into several national electrification strategies.”

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The report says it is no surprise that Ghana has a particularly active C&I energy landscape  considering the country features some of the highest electricity tariffs in sub-Saharan Africa. “However, the growth of this market is somewhat limited by domestic content rules and interest rates of around 30% for Cedi (local currency) loans.”

According to the Global Market Outlook the bulk of C&I solar PV installations in Africa are centred on commercial, tourism, manufacturing and extractive industry sectors, with shopping centres becoming an increasingly important sub-segment for the C&I market.

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Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.

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