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Europeans tell Australia, address solar potential now

By: Peter Field
03 February, 2012

Trade association says photovoltaic market is "at a crossroads" and can no longer rely on debt-laden Europe to drive growth.

A new report by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) notes continued growth in the grid-connected capacity of PV systems, but cautions that changing economics will require development of new markets outside the continent to drive new expansion.

According to the "Market Report 2011", despite global economic woes, the worldwide photovoltaic (PV) market maintained its growth in 2011 with installed capacity expanding from 39.7 GW in 2010 to 67.4 GW at the end of last year. At 21 GW, the bulk of this increase occurred in Europe.

In 2011 Italy installed the most capacity, followed by Germany, China, the USA, France and Japan, each with over 1 GW of new generating resource. EPIA says Europe still accounts for the predominant share of the global PV market with 75 per cent of all new capacity in 2011. Italy and Germany account for nearly 60 per cent of global market growth during the past year alone.

But the report also notes that the inevitable slowdown due to Europe’s debt crisis makes it crucial that new markets outside the continent start to fulfil their potential if the PV industry is to continue its upward trajectory.

"The PV industry is at a crossroads," Ingmar Wilhelm, EPIA President, said.

"Whilst European markets have always outpaced home production, this will presumably no longer be the case in the years to come. New markets around the world will have to be opened up to drive PV development in the coming decade just as Europe accounted for it during the last decade."

According to Wilhelm, adding new markets is the: "single most important achievement on the continued growth track of worldwide PV development".

But he pointed the finger at countries that have been slow to make the most of their solar potential, including Australia.

"Many markets - in particular China, the USA and Japan, but also Australia and India - have addressed only a very small part of their enormous potential," Wilhelm explained.

The report also noted that, after hydro and wind power, PV is the third most important renewable energy source in terms of globally installed capacity. 
The total energy output of the world’s PV capacity run over a calendar year is equal to some 80 billion kWh - sufficient to cover the annual power supply needs of over 20 million households.    
In Australia, growth in installed capacity has seen dramatic growth since 2008, driven by state government incentives such as feed-in tariffs which reward consumers for feeding roof-mounted PV panel power into the grid.

However, according to a report from the Clean Energy Council Australia, PV-generated power still only accounts for just over 1 GW of capacity. This is 2.3 per cent of Australia’s renewable energy output, which is itself just 9.6 per cent of all capacity.

Recent reductions in feed-in tariffs have tempered growth, but projects are still underway.

In November 2011, for example, Conergy Australia announced it had equipped: "one of the largest solar plants in the state of Queensland", with solar components from its own manufacture.

The beacon project, with a capacity of some 400 kW, powers an emergency contact centre in Zillmere, 14 km north of Brisbane.

"The [Queensland] government is very clearly going for quality here – because that is the only way to ensure that the plant will still produce continuing high yields in 20 years, Rodger Meads, President of Conergy Australia, said.

"That will pay off – and it illustrates how solar energy can combine cost-efficiency, environmental protection, architecture and practical benefit."

Other Australian PV panel suppliers include Solar City Enterprises and Si Clean Energy

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