Solar Passes 100 GW, But There’s A Long Way To Go

Solar PV cracked the 100 gigagwatt mark in installed capacity in 2012, and that’s a nice plump, juicy number, don’t you think? But the figure might obscure a couple of more salient points: an increased share of the new growth came outside Europe; and it’s still a small number in the scheme of things.

The European Photovolatic Industry Association said its preliminary data showed global PV capacity landed at around 101 GW by the end of 2012 after adding an estimated 30 GW in the year, “roughly the same as the record-setting level of 2011.”

The group said just shy of 17 GW of the 2012 additions came in Europe, which is a big proportion. But in 2011, the figure was 23 GW out of 30 GW. Solar kingpin Germany was once again the global leader, with 7.6 GW added in 2012, more than double anyone else, but other than Italy, at 3.3 GW, the countries right behind the German juggernaut were from outside Europe: China (3.5 GW), the U.S. (3.2 GW) and Japan (2.5 GW).

Not that we’ve got anything against Europe going whole-hog for PV; the more the merry. It’s just good to see that during Europe’s time of great economic struggle over the past few years, solar has continued to grow thanks to other markets stepping up their games.

Hooray for solar!

But we do need to be honest here: 100 GW of PV provides a tiny amount of the world’s electricity. According to the EPIA: “This global capacity to harness the power of the sun produces as much electricity energy in a year as 16 coal power plants or nuclear reactors of 1 GW each. Each year, the world’s PV installations reduce CO2 emissions by 53 million tons.”

This hefty-sounding data turns almost quaint when you realize that there are around 1,200 new coal plants on the drawing boards around the world, according to a 2012 World Resources Institute study.

Getting those plans off the drawing board and into the recycling bin is going to take a huge amount of progress. Is there hope? Well, as EPIA President Winfried Hoffmann said in a statement, “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.”

And there are signs pointing in PV’s favor – most notably, the plunging price. Just last week, Duke Energy’s Gregory Wolf told Bloomberg News that solar could beat wind in new installations in 2013, which would be a first.

“We really ramped up our solar in 2010,” Wolf said. “Today most of the projects are half or less of the cost now than then.”

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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