Will Europe Solar Shift Make East The New Beast?

NPD Solarbuzz’s latest European PV Markets Quarterly report projects an interesting shift in photovoltaic (PV) market activity away from stalwarts like Germany and Spain toward Southern and Eastern Europe. The shift is being caused by continued policy uncertainty over tariff rates in Germany, and the fact that Spain recently announced a moratorium on new renewable energy plants, due to generation oversupply and tariff deficits.

Germany’s market surged 63 percent from Q3 to Q4 last year, and the United Kingdom and Belgium also contributed over 370 MW to growth in the fourth quarter. But analysts say that the fourth quarter increase may merely be a result of developers waiting until the end of the year to install in order to take advantage of falling prices while still securing 2011 tariff rates.

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Overall, the European PV market showed a 23-percent increase over the third quarter, and 18 percent growth for the year. According to analysts, this is mostly good news; but it will have the effect of accelerating the tightening of PV incentives, which have been falling off as module prices decline. Module prices fell by 40 perccent last year, but have shown some evidence of stabilization in January 2012.

According to Alan Turner, vice president of NPD Solarbuzz Europe, whether or not module prices continue to fall will depend on the extent to which wholesalers are confident enough to build inventories in the face of continued policy uncertainty. For example, Germany is considering changing its tariff rate monthly, rather than biennially—a change that would smooth out the country’s demand profile significantly.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).