IEA Report Reveals Solar PV Capacity Grew By 50% in 2016

There’s no doubt that solar has come into its own in the last decade or so. From the days when opinion was often divided as to its efficacy and its future in the world of energy production, we’re now at a stage when most experts believe that this is a highly viable technology and one that will play a big role in the years to come.

A solar future will not only provide a route to energy self-sufficiency for many countries but, with increasingly better storage technology, could provide electricity even when the sun doesn’t shine. A report by the International Energy Agency reveals a growth in solar PV capacity of some 50% last year to 74GW.

What’s Driving Solar Capacity Growth?

There’s no doubt that the biggest single factor has been China. While America seems to be withdrawing from the renewables agenda, particularly once President Trump decided to pull back on the Paris climate change agreement, China has gone at it full throttle. They accounted for almost half of the capacity expansion last year, and that doesn’t take into account the solar systems they are beginning to develop and pass onto the rest of the world.

Another reason is also that we seem to have achieved a tipping point when it comes to renewables. According to the International Energy Agency recently, the sector is expected to grow by about a third within the next five years:

“The growth in renewable generation will be twice as large as that of gas and coal combined. Though coal remains the largest source of electricity generation in 2022, renewables close the generation gap with coal by half in just five years.”

Lower auction prices for both wind and solar means many countries, including India, Mexico and the UAE are all benefiting from the construction of new power plants. In the UK, regions like London, after slowing down in recent years, are looking to introduce reverse auctions to promote higher levels of solar installation.

China will undoubtedly remain the market leader for a while to come and there are plans for 360GWs of further capacity to come online in the next few years. Part of this is being driven by the real concern for air pollution, something that has been caused by the country’s dependence on coal as well as the large number of vehicles in large cities . China is also one of the few countries that is out pacing it’s targets – solar capacity has already reached the point that was planned for 2020 and continues to grow dramatically. According to Carbon Brief recently:

“Chinese companies now account for 60% of the world’s solar cell manufacturing capacity. This means market and policy developments in China will have global implications on the deployment and prices of solar around the world.”

India, in the past seen as one of the biggest carbon emitters in the world, has also been through a sea change. Renewable capacity is expected to more than double by 2022 and both solar PV and wind power are a part of this drive. While it appeared to take a backward step with the Trump administration, the USA is by no means out of the race for a renewable future. Many states, and hundreds of businesses, have said they are committed to the climate change agenda, even if the current President is not.

Off-grid solar is also growing in areas like Africa where it has the potential to provide electricity to remote places across the continent and the IEA report suggests that this could almost triple in the run up to 2022. It’s something that is estimated to bring electricity to some 70 million people who don’t currently have a reliable source of energy.

The other area that solar PV is increasing dramatically is in the production of electric vehicles. With many Western countries looking to ban petrol and diesel cars within the next couple of decades, automotive manufacturers around the world have been working hard to develop the hybrid and fully electric vehicles that will be our future. While the technology isn’t there yet, many of these could, in part, be powered by solar PV.

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