World Solar Power Topped 100k Megawatts in 2012

Reaching an all-time annual high, the 2012 figures representing global PV capacity prove that clean electricity is sweeping the globe, from China to Chile.

| August 20, 2013

World Cumulative Solar Photovoltaics Installations, 2000-2012

World Cumulative Solar Photovoltaics Installations, 2000-2012

Source: EPIA

Reposted with permission from Earth Policy Institute.

The world installed 31,100 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2012—an all-time annual high that pushed global PV capacity above 100,000 megawatts. There is now enough PV operating to meet the household electricity needs of nearly 70 million people at the European level of use. While PV production has become increasingly concentrated in one country—China—the number of countries installing PV is growing rapidly. In 2006, only a handful of countries could boast solar capacity of 100 megawatts or more. Now 30 countries are on that list, which the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects will more than double by 2018.

PV semiconductor materials convert the sun’s rays directly into carbon-free, clean electricity. Traditional solar cells—made of crystalline silicon—are combined into flat panels or “modules.” While residential rooftop systems are measured in kilowatts, large ground-mounted systems can reach thousands of megawatts of capacity. (One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.)

Today roughly 60 percent of PV is manufactured in China. A decade ago, China produced almost no PV. But in a kind of gold rush spurred by easy bank loans and government tax incentives and subsidies, China hurtled past PV technology pioneers the United States (in 2006) and Japan (in 2008).

The flood of new companies entering the Chinese PV industry over the last several years created a massive oversupply of panels at the global level and accelerated the already fast-paced drop in world PV prices. Many firms in other countries went bankrupt or shut down factories, and now even some Chinese companies are folding as the industry consolidates. Worldwide, PV production in 2012 declined 2 percent from 2011, the first annual drop on record. But this contraction will be short-lived as demand continues to rise. Solar power installations are growing more than 40 percent annually, and falling PV prices are making solar power more affordable.

China, where PV had previously been too expensive to be widely adopted, may soon lead the world in generating electricity from PV. Each year since 2006 China has at least doubled the amount of new PV installed nationwide. After installing 5,000 megawatts in 2012, China is number three in the world with 8,300 megawatts of total PV capacity, trailing only Germany and Italy. And in July 2013, the government officially set a new national PV capacity goal of 35,000 megawatts by 2015.

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