China continues to lead the world in solar-power installations and is expected to increase its capacity by more than 7 gigawatts (GW), or 7 billion watts, over last year, according to a new report.
Last year, China installed 15.13GW of new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, reaching a cumulative solar capacity of 43.48GW, according to research firm GlobalData.
This year, China's cumulative capacity has already surpassed 50.3GW. The country's PV installed capacity has increased around 15-fold since 2011 when it had 3.30GW of installed solar capacity.
In the first quarter of 2016, China added a total of 7.14GW of solar capacity, of which 6.17GW accounted for solar PV power plants, and 970 megawatts (MW) for distributed PV installations, such as rooftop panels.
The massive increase in installations can be attributed to China's efforts to boost green energy and adjust the energy mix dominated by coal, according to Ankit Mathur, GlobalData's practice head for power.
China's so called 13th Five Year Plan (FYP) sets a 2020 solar PV target at 150GW to 200GW, and aims to shift focus from grid-scale expansion toward quality and efficiency. The FYP also intends to attain a non-fossil fuel renewable energy consumption of around 15% by 2020 and 20% by 2030, Mathur said in an email reply to Computerworld.
Solar soars globally
This year, worldwide solar installed capacity is expected to increase by 70GW to 294.69GW, according GlobalData's report.
Behind China, the world's largest market for annual solar photovoltaic installations is Japan and the U.S. The U.S. is expected to finish out 2016 with 40.61GW of cumulative solar capacity, a 58.7% increase over 2015 and a whopping 915% increase since 2011. Japan will have 42.41GW of installed capacity, a 23% increase over last year and 763% increase since 2011.
Planned utility-scale solar additions in the U.S. this year are expected to top 9.5GW, the most of any single energy source, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Last year, the U.S. added less than one-third of that, or 3.1GW of solar capacity, the EIA's data indicated.
The top five states where solar capacity is being added are California (3.9GW), North Carolina (1.1 GW), Nevada (0.9 GW), Texas (0.7 GW), and Georgia (0.7 GW).
In 2015, nearly 2GW of distributed solar photovoltaic capacity (such as rooftop solar) was added in the U.S., the EIA stated.
Across the globe, there is strong demand for solar power. In the first half of 2016, there was a rush to install solar globally as new projects reaped the benefits from higher 2015 solar feed-in tariffs (FiTs), according to GlobalData.
FiTs are long-term renewable energy contracts that guarantee a lower cost for energy compared to purchasing power produced by more traditional methods, such as coal-fired power plants.
"In China, the National Development and Reform Commission has set a benchmark on the on-grid solar PV power tariff [reductions]," Mathur said, which has seen rates decrease dramatically over 2015.
In India, solar power tariff rates decreased to a record low of INR4.34 ($0.064) per kilowatt hour (kWh). Solar panel efficiency, together with lower silicon costs, is decreasing the system cost, and the capacity utilization factor in solar PV has been increasing, according to Mathur.
"The country's solar PV sector is benefiting from growing policy and political support," he said.
Italy is expected to take fifth place in 2016 with a cumulative installed solar PV capacity of 19.16 GW. The country's annual solar PV installations will experience low installation rates compared to previous years due to a subsidy cut, Mathur said.
"The Italian PV market is expected to survive even with no subsidies for its new solar PV installations, driven by small-scale installations of less than 200KW for which the government offers a net metering scheme," Mathur said.
Net metering is the ability for homeowners and businesses to sell surplus power generated from solar panels back to utilities.