Monday, 4 March 2013

Bumper year for solar and wind energy
12 Feb 2013

2012 was another bumper year for renewable energy worldwide with solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity surpassing 100 GWs for the first time and wind power capacity expanding by almost one-fifth. Rapid growth outside Europe saw a total of about 32 GW of solar PV capacity installed, bringing capacity to 101 GW and narrowly pipping the 30 GWs taken up in 2011, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association said, citing preliminary figures.

"No one would have predicted even 10 years ago that we would see more than 100 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity in the world by 2012", said EPIA President Winfried Hoffmann. "The photovoltaic industry clearly faces challenges but the results of 2012 show there is a strong global market for our technology. Solar photovoltaic plants can now generate as much electricity in a year as about 16 mid-sized coal-fired or nuclear power stations, the lobby group said.

Australian surge
Australia added about 1 GW of solar PV capacity last year, lifting the country's capacity about 70% to 2.4 GW, according to the Australian Solar Council.

The wholesale price of solar PV is now as low as 55¢ per watt of power, down from an average of $7 in 2008, said John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian Solar Council. With some consumers in NSW, for instance, paying more than 50¢ per kW-hour for peak power, solar power is becoming "an absolute no-brainer", Mr Grimes said. "The fundamental economics are now driving the uptake of solar, rather than government support".

Demand for new PV panels was quiet at the start of the year but has picked up in recent weeks, suggesting 2013 demand will probably land between the 840 MW to 1 GW levels installed in the past two years, he said. Policy uncertainty remains, though, with the government now considering a recommendation by the Climate Change Authority in its review of the Renewable Energy Target to cut the size of commercial PV installations eligible for the small-scale solar scheme from 100 to 10 kW capacity.

"That would be an enormous brake on the take-up of solar in commercial and industry areas'' if accepted by the government, and curb job growth in a sector already employing about 25,000 people, Mr Grimes said. The crash in solar PV prices has largely been prompted by Chinese producers flooding the market with low-cost panels. The expansion of the global market came even as new European capacity slumped amid subsidy cuts by governments.

Countries outside Europe added more than 13 GW of solar capacity last year, compared with less than 8 GW in 2011, driven by China, the US and Japan, the data show. Germany, home to a third of the world's solar panels, remained the biggest market after adding 7.6 GW, while Europe as a whole installed 17 GWs, down from 23 GW.

Research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance released last week found that new solar and wind capacity is now cheaper than the cost of building new coal-fired power plants in Australia.

Wind power accelerates
In a separate statement, the Global Wind Energy Council said installed capacity expanded 19% last year, with 44.7 GW of turbines built. The total of new capacity beat the previous record 40.6 GW installed in 2011 by just over 10%. Figures for Australia show the country added 358 MWs of new wind capacity, lifting the total by 16% to 2.584 GW, the Council said.

A rush by wind farm developers in the US to beat an anticipated expiration of the US Production Tax Credit saw the country install more than 8 GW of capacity in the final three months of 2012 alone. All up the US added 13.1 GW of capacity in 2012, leaving it just shy of the estimated 13.2 GW added by China.

"While China paused for breath, both the US and European markets had exceptionally strong years", Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, said in a statement on the group's website. "Asia still led global markets, but with North America a close second, and Europe not far behind".

Europe set a record with 12.4 GW of wind power added, as markets such as Sweden, Romania, Italy and Poland posted quicker growth. The outlook remains uncertain, though, as the region's on-going sovereign debt crises limits government support, the council said. The region, though, continues to lead the market for offshore wind farms, with 1.166 GW added, accounting for more than 90% of total offshore installations of 1.293 GW in 2012, the council said.