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Bulk of solar installation growth to take place in emerging markets

An employee rides a quad bike during an inspection of a solar power station on the outskirts of Simferopol, March 25, 2014.

VASILY FEDOSENKO/REUTERS

Solar power installations around the world will triple by the end of this decade, but the bulk of that growth will shift away from Europe and take place in Asia and other emerging markets.

A new analysis from British-based research firm GlobalData says the installed capacity of solar photovoltaic modules will expand from about 136 gigawatts in 2013, to 414 GW in 2020. (A gigawatt is enough to power about 750,000 homes.)

While that is a dramatic expansion, it actually marks a deceleration of the solar business, GlobalData notes. From 2008 to 2013, installations grew by an average of more than 50 per cent a year. For the latter years of this decade the growth rates will slip below 20 per cent per year – although that is off a much larger base of installations. For the rest of this decade about 40 GW of new panels will be installed worldwide each year.

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Canada has about 2 GW of solar panels installed, with most of that in Ontario.

The big change expected over the next few years is where the new panels will be located. Up until 2013, most solar installations were in Europe, particularly in Germany, Italy, Spain and France, said GlobalData's power analyst Swati Singh. Low panel prices and subsidies encouraged small-scale installations in Europe, he said, but many of those government incentives are being reduced.

On the other hand, many Asian countries have created new subsidies and tax benefits. As a result, China, India and Japan will account for the bulk of new solar installations. In 2013, one-third of all the solar panels put in place worldwide were located in China.

"The strong commitment to solar energy development [in Asia] has led to numerous research and development initiatives and increased solar module production an installations, which will drive future market growth," Mr. Singh said.

There is also an accelerating interest in solar power in South and Central America, and in the Middle East and Africa, the report says.

Manufacturing of solar panels has also shifted to Asia, with most of the new equipment being made in China, Japan and Taiwan.

Indeed, more than 70 per cent of the crystalline solar modules manufactured in 2013 came from factories in China. GlobalData said China has become the leader because the country has an abundance of polysilicon that is used to make solar cells, and there is an encouraging regulatory environment and lots of inexpensive labour.

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Japan is the second largest producer of solar modules, but it is far behind China with just 7 per cent of the world market. South Korea (at 6.5 per cent), Taiwan (2.8 per cent), and Germany (2.1 per cent) are smaller players.

Canada has some solar panel manufacturing, although it is not a big global player. Canadian Solar Inc., for example, has panel-making plants in Guelph, Ont. and London, Ont., as well as larger manufacturing operations in China.

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