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Surpisingly Modest Solar Growth Is Predicted

If Lux Research is right, photovoltaics will occupy a bigger niche, but it will still be a niche

2 min read

Lux Research, in a recent message to energy reporters, predicts that world solar installation will total 26.4 GW or $77 billion in 2015, as compared with an estimated 9.3 GW and $39 billion in 2010. Considering that Lux is a top analyst covering the solar trade (both photovoltaics and thermal), what's striking about its latest projections is how modest and conservative they are. Going to 26.4 GW from 9.3 GW in just five years may seem like an impressive rate of increase, but in fact it's barely over 20 percent per annum. Estimates of how much the solar business grew from 2007 to 2008--the most recent year available as yet--were as high as 62 percent or even 78 percent. Solarbuzz reported around this time last year that shipments of PV panels had increased 110 percent in 2008.

Lux's projection of solar growth rates in the range of 20-25 percent suggests a conclusion by the firm that the boom peaked the year before last. Still, aren't the projected rates still pretty good, and won't it be an impressive achievement if  more than 25 GW of solar are installed in 2015? Yes, but let's keep those numbers in perspective. China alone saw its total installed electrical capacity go from 300 GW in 2000 to 900 GW in 2010--an average of 60 GW per year, if you just divide 600 GW by 10. In fact, the totals installed have been increasing year by year, so that in the most recent years added annual capacity in China has come to well over 60 GW, by any estimates. It's often said indeed that just the amount of new Chinese  coal generating capacity added yearly is roughly equivalent to total British generating capacity, which is somewhat in excess of 80 GW.

So, if countries like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Russia continue to grow at the remarkable rates they've registered in recent years, briskly expanding their power systems, 25 or 26 GW will represent a significant slice of their new generating capacity in 2015--but it will still be just a slice.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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