The understanding of the PV market has increased over years but remains often a jump into the unknown. From incoherent policy decisions to fast price declines, the PV market has experienced a decade of intense evolutions that led to the 100 GW that it reached in 2017. According to the PV Market Alliance, these 100 GW represented a 25 GW increase compared to 2016 numbers, with almost 19 GW coming from China alone. In other words, the PV market outside of the Chinese market giant, grew from 41 GW in 2016 to 47 GW in 2017. These numbers highlight the chaotic evolution of the global PV market but also its capacity to continue growing to reach new heights.
PV has now reached almost all regions of the world, with different evolutions. 53 GW installed in China could be compared (population-wise) with 400 MW in Belgium or 3.2 GW in Germany for instance. A level slightly higher than the real market development in 2017 in these countries, but which remains easily reachable. The same level has not been reached yet in emerging markets, such as India, Brazil or many others, which is leaving the door open to some further developments in the coming years. But which development can be expected and which are the conditions to see an even larger PV market emerging?
Not so far away in time, people announcing a 250 GW PV market per year were mocked as crazy dreamers. When the market was about 5 GW in 2008, such a number looked at best crazy: PV was far from being competitive with any other electricity source and the market fully driven by financial incentives. But in 2017, the world installed close to 100 GW of PV systems. Would the growth from the last five years be repeated until 2022, 300 GW would be reached. While final numbers from the PV Market Alliance are not out yet, the conclusion is quite simple: 100 GW will soon become the new normal and the market will continue to grow in the medium term. Europe will continue to lag behind, thanks to the conservatism of many utilities but China, India, and emerging countries will largely compensate. In addition to this, BIPV and TIPV (for transport integrated photovoltaics) will develop, bringing PV to new heights. But if 250 GW is needed to contribute positively to decarbonize the global electricity mix, PV has the potential for a landslide, with a possible 1000 GW a year, in case of an accelerated energy transition. And the question seems more to be when it will really start than whether it will happen.
The competitiveness potential is definitively there, and many still try to catch up with this real reality. Solar fuels, the electrification of heating, and transport will call for more electricity generation, from the cheapest sources. The landslide could potentially happen, but much remains to be done to ensure a smooth and efficient development of PV. Distributed applications remain too expensive in many countries and too complex to implement in others; utility-scale applications are thriving but require from modules manufacturers and other components providers to operate with reduced margins; innovative end-products which are announced for years such as BIPV components are still confined in niche markets. In other words, the challenges for an accelerated penetration of PV are still numerous. But the potential is so bright to PV could dwarf most other sources of energy in this century. And become the real game changer.