PV on "brink of economic breakthrough"

In the EU alone, a projected investment of over €35 billion can be expected in 2015, up from today’s figure of €25 billion to €30 billion.

Ingmar Wilhelm, president of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) explained: "Today’s cost predictions, driven also by economies of scale in light of global photovoltaic capacity, totaling 40,000 megawatts (MW) in 2010, show that the technology is on the brink of an economic breakthrough."

The "Solar Generation 6" study, carried out by EPIA and Greenpeace International, additionally believes PV could account for 12 percent of Europe’s power demand by 2020, and up to nine percent of global power demand by 2030. "Going forward," stated the report, "a share of over 20 percent of the world electricity demand in 2050 appears feasible, and opens a bright, clean and sunny future to all of us."

Efficiency not a major issue

The study also found that although the PV sector is "committed" to improved efficiency and cost reduction, they are not "major issues". Because they believe many countries will reach grid parity within the next few years, they say support schemes are more important. For example, a feed-in tariff (FIT), which guarantees investment for 15 to 20 years, is key, as is assessing PV profitability on a regular basis, and through internal rate of return calculations.

Controlling the market with an upgraded "corridor" concept is also advised. "The corridor is a market control mechanism that allows to adjust FIT levels to accelerate or slow the PV market in a country," explained the study. "The FIT level can be increased or decreased regularly in relation to how much PV is in the market against predefined thresholds at regular intervals (for example, annually)."

The study went on to say that PV prices have dropped some 40 percent since 2005. By 2015, it believes the cost of PV systems is expected to drop by an additional 40 percent, compared to current levels. As a result, it sees PV systems being able to compete with electricity prices for households in many countries of the EU within the next five years. "We aim to make this important phase of cost competitiveness visible, and EPIA will provide a realistic road-map for every country with clear concepts on market mechanisms allowing equal treatment of all electricity sources," said Wilhelm.

Paradigm shift

As part of the study, EPIA and Greenpeace also commissioned updated modeling into how much solar power the world could reasonably see in the world by 2030. They say the model shows that with a Paradigm Shift scenario towards solar power, "where real technical and commercial capacity is backed-up by strong political will", PV could provide 688 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 and 1,845 GW by 2030. It adds that under an accelerated scenario, "which follows the expansion pattern of the industry to date and includes moderate political support", PV could provide 345 GW by 2020 and 1,081 GW by 2030.

In terms of global job creation, the study stated that up to 1.62 million jobs could be available in 2015, with this figure rising to 3.62 million and 4.64 million in 2020 and 2030 respectively. Currently, in Europe, over 300,000 people are employed.

"Our goal is to make solar photovoltaic technology a mainstream power source through policy support at an optimal cost for consumers," said Sven Teske, senior energy expert at Greenpeace International. He added: "Solar photovoltaic is a key technology for combating climate change; our research shows that it creates 35 to 50 jobs per ton of CO2 savings and will increase the security of energy supply by reducing dependency on energy imports to Europe."