Europe still has a big part to play

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Whilst acknowledging the shift in solar manufacturing and demand from Europe to Asia, the EU’s PV Status Report 2013 paints an encouraging picture for the region’s contribution to the global industry.

Issued yesterday to coincide with the opening of the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference (PVSEC), the report claims Europe was still top dog for installations last year, pointing out: "At the end of 2012, of the total worldwide 100 GW of solar PV electricity generation capacity, the European Union had a cumulative installed capacity of over 69 GW, making it the leader in PV installations."

The report, compiled by the Institute for Energy and Transport (IET) of the EU’s Joint Research Center (JRC), adds solar topped clean energy investment worldwide for the third year running, accounting for 57.7% – US$137.7 billion – of a figure that fell for the first time in a decade, declining 11% to $269 billion.

The report offers an accurate summary of the story so far in solar and takes a look at several of the world’s solar markets and cell and module manufacturing companies and the fact some sections already feel dated illustrates how fast-paced the industry is.

For instance, the positive outlook predicted for Australia, where PV is predicted to supply 20% of the country’s energy needs by 2020 already seems optimistic after Tony Abbott’s election on a platform of rolling back renewable energy subsidies.

Similarly, Norwegian-headquartered solar company REC is described as trying to compete at all stages of the solar supply chain when its shareholders last week approved a division of the company to return to its polysilicon manufacturing roots.

Three barriers to solar uptake

The three main barriers to the industry, according to the report, are perceptions of solar and its costs, insufficient regulatory frameworks and the limitations of transmission and distribution systems, with the report pointing out with PV power costing as little as €0.05/kWh ($0.07/kWh) or less to generate, the majority of the final cost is needed to transport it from where it is generated to where it is consumed.

The report’s authors repeat the oft-heard call for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies – which they claim amount to more than $3 trillion worldwide from 2007-12, enough to fund 680 GW of solar globally; regulatory and technical solutions to integrate renewables into the grid; better battery storage; and the lowering of soft costs that explain why, using the same hardware, PV systems cost $2.10/Wp in Germany but between $4.5 and $5.1/Wp in California and Japan.

The JRC report endeavors to end on a high note, pointing out the reference scenario predicted by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) for solar capacity in 2015 was surpassed last year.

With new installations predicted to be between 129 GW and 150 GW this year and for the next two years, even Greenpeace’s ‘revolution’ scenario is within reach.