Developing countries added 34 gigawatts of solar capacity over the last year, an increase of 54 percent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s annual analysis of emerging markets.
BNEF’s Climatescope report attributes much of that growth to plummeting panel prices. Low prices brought a surge of installs in 71 emerging markets, such as Brazil, Uganda and India, up from just 3 gigawatts in 2011.
Last year, solar represented 19 percent of new generating capacity in these countries, up from just 10.6 percent the year prior. That added capacity can produce enough electricity to power all the homes in Peru or Nigeria.
“[Price] is creating opportunities ranging from multimillion-dollar projects that serve the grid, to small-scale installations that enable farmers to boost their yields through better irrigation and connect to the internet,” said Ethan Zindler, BNEF’s head of Americas, in a statement.
While solar capacity surged, headwinds formed.
Installations more than tripled in the last three years in developing countries. But much of that growth came in familiar territory. In 2016, most growth came from China, the globe’s leading solar market.
Last year also brought the largest drop in investment ever recorded in emerging markets: $40.2 billion.
"China was, of course, a huge part of the story. It accounted for most of the slowdown with its clean energy asset finance activity falling 34.1% from 2015 to 2016. China was not alone among emerging markets, however. Across all other developing countries, total investment dropped from a record of $43.3 billion in 2015 to $30.2 billion in 2016," reads the report.
The trend is a warning sign to the global community, writes BNEF: "This pronounced investment drop also comes just three years ahead of 2020, the year in which total wealthy nations pledged to start delivering $100 billion annually to poorer countries to address the threat of climate change."
The slowdown is due to a couple of competing forces. Low solar prices suppressed total investment numbers. But policy changes and lower-than-expected power demand also tempered asset financing.
In solar, China continues "shattering expectations," according to GTM Research. The country has already met the gigawatt target set out in its 13th Five Year Plan and recently revised it upward to a potential 200 gigawatts. According to BNEF, China accounted for 27 gigawatts between 2015 and 2016 -- nearly 80 percent of the 34 gigawatts added.
But GTM Research projects that the market in China will experience a “2020 crash" in the utility-scale sector, as market reforms are implemented.
India, which added 4.2 gigawatts, will pick up some of China’s slack. However, under current forecasts, 2017 will still be a peak year for installed capacity in the region.
Although financing can waver year by year, China is charging ahead on its solar investment. At the start of 2017, the country pledged 2.5 trillion yuan (about $379 billion) to renewable development through 2020, with 1 trillion yuan (about $151 billion) going to solar.
However, countries spending billions on renewable development, like China and India, remain outliers. The 70 countries profiled in the report invested 25 percent less money in renewables than in the previous year.
BNEF reports that since 2010, only around 27 countries have spent more than $100 million per year on clean energy development, enough to fund just a few PV projects. And just 67 percent of the surveyed countries have feed-in tariffs or competitive auctions to boost solar growth.
While this year’s outlook from BNEF is decidedly less rosy than last year -- when the report concentrated on the potential created by falling prices and the promise of clean energy targets set out in the Paris Agreement -- there is still some cause for optimism.
On the African continent, 1.5 million people have invested in solar home systems using mobile money, up from 600,000 in 2015. The number of solar irrigation pumps in India has increased tenfold between April 2014 and May 2017. And BNEF points to a surge in photovoltaic-powered pay-as-you-go battery and lantern systems, cellphone towers and microgrids as positive signs that solar is becoming more ubiquitous.