Last year was a record year for global PV installations, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest Trends in Photovoltaic Applications report, released last week. Worldwide installed capacity amounted to 51 gigawatts in 2015, up from around 40 gigawatts in the two preceding years.
After 20 years of PV development, the report finds there are now at least 227 gigawatts of PV installed around the world, making up more than 1.2 percent of global electricity demand. The latest GTM Research Global Solar Demand Monitor also puts the total at 228 gigawatts, down from a previous projection of more than 250 gigawatts.
According to IEA, the annual PV contribution to electricity demand has now passed the 1 percent mark in at least 33 countries, with Honduras leading the pack at 12 percent, followed by Italy and Germany at 8 percent, and Greece above 7 percent.
While solar PV makes up a higher share of overall electricity demand in other countries, China led the globe in terms of new installations. As in 2013 and 2014, China ranked first place, with 15.15 gigawatts of solar capacity added in 2015, according to the National Energy Administration. China bested its own previous record of adding 10 gigawatts of solar PV in a single year.
Second place last year once again went to Japan, which added 10.8 gigawatts of solar PV in 2015, up 11 percent over 2014. The U.S. held on to third place with 7.3 gigawatts of solar PV installed last year, the U.K. ranked fourth with 4.1 gigawatts, and India made the top-five list for the first time with 2.1 gigawatts.
“Together, these five countries represent 78% of all installations recorded in 2015 but only 52% in terms of installed capacity,” the IEA report states. “In 2014, the top five countries represented 78% of 2014 installations and 72% of cumulative capacity. This shows the current market rebalancing, with many historical actors, such as Germany and Italy leaving the top five (and in the case of Italy, the top 10) for annual installations.”
While solar has benefited from strong national policies to reach the deployment levels seen today, PV now offers an economically attractive solution to energy access, energy security and climate change issues. With major investment commitments made by international development funds, governments and private entities, solar is poised to play an expanding role in the global energy mix.
Earlier this year, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a report on how to scale up investment in renewable energy to meet global climate and sustainable development goals, which will require renewable energy investments to more than triple by 2030. By the same year, a separate IRENA report found that the share of global electricity demand met by solar PV could reach as much as 13 percent.
“This comprehensive overview of the solar industry finds that these cost reductions, in combination with other enabling factors, can create a dramatic expansion of solar power globally,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Amin, in a statement. “The renewable energy transition is well underway, with solar playing a central role.”
The International Solar Alliance offers one piece of evidence. In June, 121 countries led by India agreed to collaborate on increasing solar energy use around the world and mobilize $1 trillion in solar investments by 2030.
While the election of Republican Donald Trump as the next U.S. president has called into question how committed the country will remain on clean energy, recent developments indicate strong global-level interest in continuing to seize opportunities presented by solar and other renewable energy resources.
***For a deeper dive on the global solar market, look for the upcoming release of GTM Research’s
Global Solar Demand Monitor report for Q4.