Massive increases in the amount of solar generators installed in China and the US last year saw the world’s rate of capacity growth increase by 50% compared to 2015.
Total capacity worldwide is now at 305 gigawatts (some 250GW more than there was back in 2010) thanks to an extra 76GW installed in 2016 alone. This compares to 51GW installed in 2015.
More than half of the solar capacity installed last year (34.2GW) was in China, pushing Asia’s share of the worlds solar power up to more than 66%. Meanwhile, the USA doubled their rate of expansion over the year, adding a total of 14GW in 2016. The USA currently has just under 20% of the world’s share of solar capacity.
The large scale expansion of the world’s solar fleet is, quite unsurprisingly, being praised as representative of significant progress towards the long term targets set during the Paris summit in 2015.
James Watson, head of campaign group SolarPower Europe, said: “In order to meet the Paris targets, it would be important if solar could continue its rapid growth. The global solar industry is ready to do that, and can even speed up.”
Over in Europe, capacity continued to grow, albeit at a reduced rate as the year went on. Overall, solar capacity in Europe currently sits at 104GW, having surpassed the 100GW milestone fairly on in the year. The slowing rate of installation though meant that all in all Europe’s solar growth rate was down by 20% compared to the year before – with 6.9GW added in 2016 compared to 8.6GW in 2015.
Germany continues to lead the charge in Europe in terms of actual capacity, followed by Italy. In terms of new capacity though, the UK topped the leaderboard last year, accounting for almost 30% of what was added, with Germany accounting for 21%.
Watson explained that despite the stunted growth in Europe towards the end of the year, 2016 will be looked on as a success globally for the solar industry. Going forward, however, Europe needs to step up its game, so to speak.
He said: “With clean solar being cheaper than inflexible generation technologies in much of Europe today, there is the need to drive the next solar investment cycle so we can pursue the decarbonisation of the European power sector. This requires the right policy framework. The Clean Energy Package recently presented by the European Commission provides very concrete and actionable levers, though there is still room for improvement.”
Michael Schmela, also of SolarPower Europe, expressed concern for Europe’s lagging behind globally in terms of solar expansion.
He said: “Once a solar leader, the European Union is in danger of being eclipsed by Asian powerhouses, such as China, in both solar power production and installations. Even the US, with a much smaller population than the EU’s 28 member countries combined, added about twice as much solar power capacities in 2016.”