The pv magazine weekly news digest

At some point over the past few weeks, somewhere in Europe, the 100th GW of solar PV capacity was completed in the continent. Last week, SolarPower Europe decided to mark this milestone with a little celebration, calling out Europe’s strengths and urging attendees to remember just how important, pivotal and dynamic a market it can be.

Naysayers said their nays, but 100 GW is a figure not to be sniffed at. Installation figures across Europe for 2016 have been rather disappointing, but a handful of recent events in the continent offer promise for better times ahead.

One of this week’s most notable headlines came from the U.K., where data collated by Carbon Brief found that solar produced more electricity in the country than coal for the six months between April and September.

The writing has been on the wall for some time. In April solar eclipsed coal for a single day, then throughout May, PV’s output outshone that of coal, while the recent data puts solar at 6.9 GWh between April and September, with coal at a relatively anemic 6.4 GWh.

However, solar’s shine is set to be short-lived. The months April to September are traditionally the strongest for solar output in the U.K., and coincided with a widespread phasedown of coal plants nationwide. Allied to further regressive cuts to solar support, and it is unlikely that the technology will enjoy such a prominent role in the U.K.’s electricity output for a while yet.

The U.K.’s aging coal fleet is being gradually phased out, with just 10 coal power plants remaining in operation in the U.K. today. Although solar’s influence is likely to be stunted over the next few years, the nation’s most popular form of energy technology is also likely to be its cheapest by the next decade, finds a new report by the Solar Trade Association (STA).

The STA analysis, conducted in collaboration with Aurora energy Research, finds that incorporating solar into the U.K.’s power system – complete with requisite ‘back-up’ – is just £1.30/MWh, or less than 2% of the costs of solar today.

Turkey readies for solar Christmas

Whatever political direction Turkey is headed, its solar goals and outlook remain steadfastly European, ie, rooted in tangible if slow progress, and based on a sensible support model. This week the nation’s energy minister Berak Albayrak announced plans to launch 1 GW of new solar PV tenders before the end of the year, with mandatory local production.

According to Solarbaba’s Ates Ugurel, the main motivation behind the new solar tender is to boost the local manufacturing industry, widening investment to include ingot and wafer production. However, investors must be asking themselves whether they can take Albayrak’s announcement seriously. This is because it is unclear whether the minister honestly wants to promote solar energy, or whether it is a publicity stunt.

The final part of a 600 MW large-scale solar tender was completed in April 2015, but, so far, none of it has been installed. One reason for this is that the past tenders included within them a license fee per project that in many cases was far too high, leading to idle projects.

To date, Turkey has installed 650 MW of solar PV, all of which has come from the so-called non-licensed fragment of the market. If Turkey’s energy minister honestly wishes to support solar energy deployment within the country, there are more effective ways to do so.

REC pushes efficiency boundaries

Broadly speaking, Europe’s solar R&D labs remain the pinnacle of PV development, and Norway’s REC raised the bar this week with a new record efficiency for mass-produced multicrystalline solar cells.

Using a new, industrially reproducible formula, REC achieved an average conversion efficiency of 20.21%, and is set to roll out this technique in its manufacturing facilities in Singapore over the coming months.

REC earlier this year invested around $200 million in developing its production and R&D facilities in Singapore, a move designed to ramp up the production of its TwinPeak solar modules to 1.3 GW via more automation and improved efficiencies.

"Panels with REC TwinPeak technologies already boasted leading efficiencies in their class," continued O’Neil. "These latest, even higher efficiency values will create new generations of premium quality REC products that deliver the greatest value to our customers worldwide."

The 10 GW build up

The U.S. utility-scale market has long been set for a breakout year in 2016, due to the formerly pending expiration of the U.S. Investment Tax Credit (ITC). But figures on exactly how much solar will get installed have been hard to pin down.

GTM Research has documented a boom in project starts, and according to the company’s Utility PV Market Tracker service there is currently 10.1 GW-DC of utility-scale solar PV under construction nationwide. This includes 8.6 GW of solar projects being built in the top 10 state markets – more PV than was put online in the entire year 2015 across all market segments.

Among this, the company also lists eight states where more than 400 MW-DC of solar is currently under construction. These include not only California and Texas – which each have over 1 GW under construction – but also states that a few years ago had small to non-existent markets, such as Georgia, Florida and Utah.

GTM Research notes that this has been building for some time. “States don’t go from zero to 1 GW, so a lot of the places where we’re seeing diversification, there is only a small amount being developed, but it is indicative of more to come,” GTM Research Solar Analyst Colin Smith told pv magazine.

India tops 8.6 GW

Few solar round-ups can ignore India these days, and even in a relatively quiet week for the stirring solar giant, there were still a couple of noteworthy achievements. First among them was the news from Mercom Capital Group that India has now surpassed 8.6 GW of cumulative solar PV capacity, and is set to end 2016 having grown by 4.8 GW.

The calendar year up to now has seen India add 3.8 GW of new solar, Mercom says, with some 500 MW added in the month since the last Mercom report. By region, there are now four India states that have more than 1 GW of capacity installed – Tamil Nadu (which accounts for 19% of all Indian solar capacity), Rajasthan (15%), Gujarat (13%) and Andhra Pradesh (12%).

This week also saw India finally ratify the Paris Agreement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet waited until Sunday, October 2, to coincide the ratification of the agreement with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Indian officials confirmed that the nation’s aim is to be a global leader in the deployment of solar and wind power, but stressed that the country requires further financial aid to reach its lofty goals.

According to Manish Bapna, the executive vice president of the World Resource Institute, India requires more than $2.5 trillion to meet its renewable energy target of 175 GW installed by 2022. To raise this figure, foreign investment is going to be key, said Bapna.

And in other news…

pv magazine’s Christian Roselund and Jonathan Gifford spent much of their time at the recent Solar Power International exhibition in Las Vegas last month recording a series of insightful videos with a selection of some of the industry’s most interesting experts and stakeholders. Check out our dedicated YouTube page to watch the various interviews and discussions from the show.

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