Glass half full or glass half empty? Every industry houses both types of individuals, but in solar, the fact that grizzled veterans of the industry tend to err on the positive side speaks volumes of the technologys canny knack of proving the doubters wrong time and time again.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) is not quite a fully fledged doubter of clean tech, but its forecasts on future renewables growth tend to stick to a more conservative curve, and its latest World Energy 2015 Outlook, published this week, was no different.
The report paid lip-service to the undoubted energy sector transition underway across many markets right now, but its projections for growth essentially point to a flat-lining of PV, forecasting just 144 GW of new PV capacity annually through 2040.
These figures may sound big today, but 25 years from now the landscape will be very different, making 144 GW a bashfully modest projection. "This is another in a long run of extremely and unrealistically conservative reports from the IEA," Naam told pv magazine. "IEA has a long history of drastically underestimating solar and wind. Every year, IEAs finds that their previous forecasts were too low, and raises their new forecasts slightly, but not meaningfully. This year is nothing new."
Part of this appears to be due to IEA vastly underestimating falling solar and wind costs, again with a seeming disregard for historical trends. A 40% cost drop by 2040 is ludicrously conservative, commented Bloomberg New Energy Finance CEO Michael Liebreich.
Liebreich estimates that the global solar industry alone is growing 30% annually, and that costs are falling 20% with every doubling meaning that a 40% cost reduction is likely to be achieved in less than 10 years, not 25.
You are going to see much more substantial cost drops in solar, states Liebreich.
IHS goes bigger
Analysts IHS, meanwhile, set their forecast a fair sight higher, projecting the installation of 272.4 GW between 2016 and 2019, globally. Broken down, 2016 is set to see installations totaling 65 GW, while 65.5 GW are expected to be installed in 2017, 68.4 GW in 2018 and 73.5 GW in 2019. For this year, the market analysts recently raised their forecasts from 57.3 to 58.7 GW.
Looking to next year, IHS says the top five markets will comprise China, the U.S., Japan, India and the U.K. "Strong" PV production and shipments are anticipated in 1H, particularly in China and the U.S., due to various policy measures, like the expiring U.S. ITC tax credit and installation deadlines. This demand, coupled with supply restrictions from the trade disputes, is expected to see prices remaining stable for the first half of the year.
The analysts see solar PV module production going from just under 180 GW in Q4 2015, to just under 170 GW in Q1 2016, and then climbing to nearly 180 GW in Q2. Average selling prices (ASPs) during this period are expected to stay flat at just under US$0.60/Wp. Going into H2, ASPs are forecast to fall. 2017 is set to experience a "slump," says IHS, which will negatively impact ASPs and margins in 2H 2016.
Higher efficiencies to support lower costs
With ASPs set to flatline and then fall, solar companies are pressured by the need to differentiate themselves in the market, while continuing to offer value and performance. One route to exceptionalism has always been improved efficiency, and this week Chinas Trina Solar raised the bar once more for multi c-Si solar cells by setting a new world record of 21.25%.
The 156 square millimeter cell was fabricated on a p-type multicrystalline substrate, and integrates Trina’s Honey Plus technologies including back surface passivation and local back surface field.
This beats the previous record of 20.76%, which Trina set in late 2014. The company says that only low-cost industrial processes which can easily be integrated into high-volume production were used to fabricate the cell.
Thai has eyes for solar
According to a recent report by Germanys Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and GIZ, Thailands ruling government has outlined an ambitious plan to develop 6 GW of solar PV capacity in the country by 2036 as part of a wider goal to source 30% of the nations energy from renewables by that date.
According to Thailands Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), the country currently has a total of a total of 1,601.36 MW of installed solar, including 1,520 MW of solar farms and some 82 MW of rooftop installations.
Whats in store in the UK?
If the British government wanted to make everybody forget about solar, then its recent cuts to the FIT had the opposite effect. Such has been the anger and ire directed at the government that the issue has rarely been off the agenda in recent weeks, and this chatter has served to prompt industry advocates to develop ways to help the industry stagger over the line towards grid parity.
A recent report from the BPVA suggests that the reduction of the FIT could be a shot in the arm for storage in the country, as the 700,000 or so solar consumers seek to store and self consume the solar energy they generate.
BPVAs report suggests that through the tapering of the FITs, the U.K. residential PV market is currently in a transitional phase. Where before the anticipated FITs cuts, the main motivation to install PV was to make money, the new drivers to install PV is to satisfy electricity needs as well as financial security from the exposure to electricity price fluctuation.
Germany could miss RE targets
In Germany, however, current policies outlined under the Energiewende may mean the country misses its 2030 renewable energy target, according to a new report by IRENA.
The report, REmap Germany, commissioned by The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), and compiled by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), looks at Germanys Energiewende (energy transition) presents two scenarios it foresees for the Energiewende: (i) either renewables will comprise 27% of gross final energy (the Reference Case); or (ii) they could reach 37% (Remap 2030). The question of whether or not the target will be achieved comes down to policy, i.e. if current policies do not change, the targets will not be met, or exceeded.
Over on pv magazine Latin America, the big news story if the week is the approval by the Colombian government of a new tax incentive for renewable energy (links in Spanish), which are set to be introduced in February next year. Elsewhere, Deutsche Bank runs the rule over the Chilean solar market, projecting the installation of more than 1 GW of solar PV capacity this year, while in the Dominican Republic the inauguration of a 1.5 MW solar farm turned heads.
Germanys solar week was pretty much summed up by the IRENA REmap Germany report, but there was also an interesting story in Iran, where it was reported that an unnamed German company has signed a deal to build and develop 1.25 GW of solar PV capacity (links in German) near the capital, Tehran. And finally, a fascinating report by Fraunhofer ISE analyzed and assessed the future costs of the Energiewende.