Led by China and Japan in Asia, the United States in North America and Germany in Europe, photovoltaic solar power is poised for robust global growth. Some forecasts estimate it will meet nearly a third of the world's power demand in 50 years’ time.
Two unrelated events have given photovoltaic solar powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... a tremendous boost. First, Germany's nuclear phase-out after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan turned it into the world's leading solar country in short order. Second, in Beijing, the central government's decision to make solar a vital part of its energy future, ahead of coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from..., has prompted China to heavily subsidize its new industry and allowed it to dominate global supply.
Solar's sudden upswing came amid serious growing pains. Surplus global capacity in panels forced the closure of many German as well as Chinese manufacturing plants. But the situation has stabilized: panel producers restructured and the downstream sector (PV system installation) scaled up and streamlined its operations.
A Trio of Leaders: Germany, China and Japan
At end-2013, global installed capacityThe power generation capacity of a particular plant. It is usually expressed in megawatts (or sometimes even gigawatts)... totaled 134 gigawatts (GW). Germany led the pack with 36 GW, followed by China and Japan. France ranked sixth globally, with 4.6 GW. The 134 GW figure has to be measured against other sources: it made up roughly 2% of installed power generation capacity and just 0.5% of global power production, given photovoltaic's conversion efficiencies.
France ranked sixth globally in photovoltaic solar power at end-2013.
Although this is a miniscule share, its growth rate cannot be ignored: PV solar capacity is increasing by 35% annually. New installed capacity worldwide in 2013 came to almost 36 GW, up from 30 GW in 2012 and 26 GW in 2011.
Growth has slowed in Europe, especially in Germany, which installed just 3.3 GW in 2013 (versus 8 GW in 2012), and France, which added a mere 0.6 GW. But China, Japan, the United States and a host of smaller countries around the world, including Chile, South Africa and Southeast Asian nations, have taken up the baton.
500 GW Forecast in 2020
That being the case, analysts concur in predicting that growth will continue through 2020.By that time installed capacity should be 500 GW (compared to 134 GW at end-2013),
Germany is the "most solar" country in the world, but China is catching up.
which would be 2.2% of global power production. Also by 2020, China will be far and away the top producer (probably with some 100 GW), trailed by the trio of Germany, Japan and the United States, with 50 to 60 GW each. France is expected to rank ninth or tenth globally at that point.
Forecasts beyond 20 years are always less reliable. However, some analysts expect to see 2,000 GW before 2035 and 12,000 GW in 50 years’ time (around 2060-2075). At those levels, PV solar's share of global power production would rise to 8% and then 30% respectively.
PV Upstream and Down
Large global companies are spearheading the sector’s overall growth. On the upstream or panel production end, the top three players based on revenue are the American companies First Solar Inc. and SunPower (Total holds a 66% share of the latter) and China's Yingli. They are followed by five more Chinese manufacturers, attesting to the country's tremendous involvement in solar power.
The downstream sector, which is attracting investment from the same companies, is the one that will probably grow the most. It needs to incorporate solar into new practices and, in particular, succeed in driving the convergence of digital technologies and power. Downstream solar is very open to innovation and to the management of complex systems, embedded in each country's regional fabric. It involves new occupations and will likely create the biggest pool of jobs in the future.