Solar PV was the most installed energy source in Europe during 2011 according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). The EPIA reports that solar PV capacity across the EU rose by 63 percent to reach 21.9GW last year. It is believed that the rapid rise of solar across Europe has been caused by the increased uptake of incentive schemes, such as the feed-in tariff, combined with increased Governmental subsidisation across the EU.

Solar PV technology is spearheading a European renewable renaissance despite the trying economic conditions. European solar capacity installed in 2011 outstripped new wind and gas capacity combined, which each saw 9.5GW of capacity installed in 2011. European countries accounted for 75 percent of all newly-installed global solar capacity last year, which is set to produce around 26TWh of clean electricity.  

The report shows that Global PV capacity in 2011 stood at 29.7GW, an increase of 44 percent from 2010. The German and Italian solar markets dominated the year, accounting for 60 percent of all solar installs with 7.5GW and 9.3GW respectively.  

However, the EPIA have warned that current installation rates are unsustainable and has predicted a decrease rate in installed capacity from 21-9GW over 2012.  

EPIA president Dr Winfried Hoffmann explained: “The PV industry is now weathering a period of uncertainty in the short-term, but over the medium- and long-terms the prospects for continued robust growth are good. The results of 2011 – and indeed the outlook for the next several years – show that under the right policy conditions PV can continue its progress towards competitiveness in key electricity markets and become a mainstream energy source.”

Hoffmann concluded: “Policy support has been crucial to getting PV to this place in its development – just as it was crucial to helping develop all other energy sources (fossil and nuclear) in the past, but now PV needs to demonstrate that it is on the way to becoming a mature industry, ready for the next stage of its development.”

The report models two different scenarios for the UK market: A moderate scenario and a Policy-Driven scenario. The former provides a pessimistic view (reduction of policy support) while the later Policy-Driven scenario assumes the continuation and introduction of adequate support mechanisms, a strong political will and the removal of administrative barriers.

Under the Moderate scenario the UK would have installed 2000MW of capacity by 2016, whilst under the Policy-Driven scenario the UK could hit five times that amount with 9400MW of capacity by 2016.

The report acknowledges the importance of the Climate Change Minister’s announced ambition of 22GW of capacity by 2020 (up from 2.7GW in the current plan) and also welcomes the doubling of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) budget to accommodate the explosive growth of the PV market. However, tariff reductions in July 2012 are set to adversely affect the market.

The full report can be viewed here.