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Photovoltaics sees record growth in 2011, industry faces short-term challenges

Photovoltaics sees record growth in 2011, industry faces short-term challenges

Solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity continued its remarkable growth trend in 2011, even in the midst of a financial and economic crisis and even as the PV industry was enduring a period of consolidation. As they have for the past decade, PV markets again grew faster than anyone had expected both in Europe and around the world. A new report from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), assesses the European and global markets for PV in 2011, and makes forecasts for the next five years. The report's major findings for 2011 include:
• 29.7 GW of PV systems were connected to the grid in 2011, up from 16.8 GW in 2010; in terms of installed systems the estimated numbers are a minimum of 24.7 GW in 2011, up from a maximum of 21.8 GW in 2010
• With approximately 70 GW cumulative global installations, PV is now, after hydro and wind power, the third most important renewable energy source in terms of globally installed capacity
• 21.9 GW were connected to the grid in Europe in 2011, compared to 13.4 GW in 2010; Europe still accounts for the predominant share of the global PV market, with 75% of all new capacity in 2011
• Italy was the top market for the year, with 9.3 GW connected, followed by Germany with 7.5 GW
• China was the top non-European PV market in 2011, with 2.2 GW installed, followed by USA with 1.9 GW

Such a rapid growth rate cannot be expected to last forever, however. Currently, the PV industry is weathering a period of uncertainty in the short-term. But over the medium- and long-terms the prospects for continued robust growth are good. The results of 2011, and indeed the outlook for the next several years, show that under the right policy conditions PV can continue its progress towards competitiveness in key electricity markets and become a mainstream energy source. PV is now a significant part of Europe's electricity mix, producing 2% of the demand in the EU and roughly 4% of peak demand. Policy support has been crucial to getting PV to this place in its development - just as it was crucial to helping develop all other energy sources (fossil and nuclear) in the past. But now PV needs to demonstrate that it is on the way to becoming a mature industry, ready for the next stage of its development.

Future market growth will depend strongly upon national policy decisions, estimating that the global PV market will grow to between 38.8 GW and 77.3 GW in 2016, as per a report by European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). The report predicts relatively flat growth in global PV markets in 2012 and 2013 due to reductions in European subsidy programs, estimating global PV markets between 20 GW and 40-41 GW in size both years. European markets where PV has developed vigorously in recent years have reached, at least for the time being, a level that will be difficult to maintain in the two coming years. The market slowdown in Europe will not immediately be offset by market growth elsewhere in the world, but a rebalancing has begun. New markets around the world will have to be opened up to drive PV development in the coming decade just as Europe accounted for it until now. Many existing markets - in particular China, the USA and Japan, but also India - have addressed only a very small part of their enormous potential for PV development. PV now provides 5% of Italian electricity demand, and more than 10% of peak demand. The EPIA measures systems connected to the grid, not installations, and particularly in Italy many of the PV plants which are reported as commissioned in 2012 were installed in 2011. Together, Germany and Italy comprised 77% of new European capacity in 2011. The report notes the imbalance created by the dominance of a few markets, citing "implosions" in the Spanish and Czech PV markets following drastic policy responses to overly successful feed-in tariffs. European installations represented 74% of the 29.7 GW of new global PV capacity in 2011. However, EPIA predicts a contraction in European PV markets in 2012, estimating that the continent will commission only 9.43 to 21.6 GW. The organization predicts that this contraction will worsen in 2013, recovering slowly in following years. However, the organization also estimates that starting in 2013 this decline in European PV markets will be made up for by expansion in other markets, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, which commissioned 4.85 GW in 2011. This region is also dominated by a few large markets, with China commissioning 2.2 GW of PV in 2011, and Japan 1.3 GW. EPIA predicts that the Asia-Pacific region will grow sharply in the short- to medium-term, predicting 3 to 5 GW of new capacity in China in 2012 and 2.2 to 2.5 GW in Japan, supported by feed-in tariffs in both nations. The report also predicts impressive growth in the U.S. PV market, with an estimated 2.8 to 3.5 GW to be commissioned in 2012. The United States is the only national market larger than 1 GW annually that is not driven by feed-in tariffs.

Organic photovoltaics market research by IDTechEx, estimates that the organic photovoltaics (OPV) market will explode by over 1300% by 2022, from a value of US$4.6 mln currently up to over US$630 mln in just 10 years. In addition to providing an excellent form factor, OPVs combine good performance under indoor lighting conditions with low capital expenditure, and potentially very low energy production costs using printable plastics. The market growth will be predominantly driven by electronics in apparel, posters and PoP smart labels, and off-grid developing world applications. Despite tremendous growth potential, OPVs will nonetheless remain a small player on the greater PV scene, obtaining total market shares <1.5% over the next decade. As per IDTechEX, the market for printed and thin film electronics will be US$9.46 bln in 2012. 42.5% of that will be predominately organic electronics - such as OLED display modules. Of the total market in 2012, 30% will be printed. Initially photovoltaics, OLED and e-paper displays grow rapidly, followed by thin film transistor circuits, sensors and batteries. By 2022 the market will be worth $63.28 billion, with 45% printed and 33% on flexible substrates. However, the topic is even bigger than this with some conventional electronics such as conventional aSi Photovoltaics now migrating to being printed, to reduce cost, be available on flexible substrates and in larger areas. In addition to the above, forecasts for such markets are given, as is progress to print them.
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