Solar power growth is like an escalator (charts)

Global solar power installations are breaking records quarter after quarter. Almost every quarter in the past three years broke the record for most solar power installed in a quarter. Quarter 1 of 2014 just broke the record again, but it will only hold onto it for a couple more months. Every quarter this year is projected to be considerably larger than the one before it.

What's the driving cause of this escalator growth? It's a few things, naturally, but probably nothing is more important than the tremendous drop in the cost of solar power that we've seen in recent years, which roughly looks like an escalator in the other direction. That helps to make solar competitive with other sources of power or, for consumers, with retail electricity.

price of solar panels© BNEF

A good part of that cost drop has come through Chinese manufacturers, and China isn't hesitating to take advantage of its place in this relatively new industry. In the past few years, its 2015 solar target has increased from 5,000 megawatts (MW) to 10,000 MW, then to 20,000 MW, then to 40,000 MW. Yes, over just a few years, its target increased 8 times over!

Its new installations in one year (2013) were about double what it initially (in 2010) expected to have installed in total by the end of 2015.

It became clear early last year that China would be the #1 solar installer in 2013, and the red giant didn't fail to deliver. With about 12,000 MW of solar power installed in 2013 alone, it crushed any previous country record for installed solar power capacity in a single year. Actually, the amount of solar power added in China in 2013 was about the same as all the solar power added in the United States for all years up through 2013. And a similar total, perhaps even a bit more, is projected for 2014.

Of course, installing power plants and rooftop solar systems from solar modules produced in China is a good way to keep jobs and the economy growing in China. However, solar installation jobs dwarf solar manufacturing jobs, so any country in the world can get a jobs boost from a stronger focus on solar power. Many other countries have been breaking their own records for solar power installations, including 2013's second-largest and third-largest solar markets.

The #2 solar market in 2013 was Japan, and the #3 market was the US. For renewable energy investment as a whole, it's a similar story. Though, the US and Japan switch places thanks to greater US investment in other renewables, especially wind energy.

renewable energy investment© Pew Charitable Trusts

Regarding solar power growth in the first quarter of 2014, a great portion of the growth was also from the UK market (due to an expiring commercial solar power incentive). Japan and the UK together "accounted for more than one-third of global solar PV demand in Q1’14 and set new quarterly records for PV deployed," senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz Michael Barker stated.

However, really, it is a global effort that keeps solar power growth marching forward like an escalator. “With Q1’14 now closed, the trailing 12-month demand suggests that the true size of the industry today is almost 40 GW. By the end of Q1’15, the PV industry will likely break through the pivotal 50 GW barrier....”

Of course, that is still "not enough" to deal with global warming, but we're getting there. With the right policies and greater consumer awareness, that solar escalator at the top could get a lot steeper.

Tags: China | Japan | Solar Energy | Solar Power | Solar Technology | United Kingdom | United States


treehugger slideshows