THE BLOG
03/17/2009 11:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's Official: Global Solar Market Exploded in 2008

Recent growth rates for the world's solar PV have been impressive at 40+% these past several years. But the newly published Solarbuzz Annual Report, Marketbuzz 2009, shows last year's rate blew those numbers away. The global solar installation market more than doubled (growing 110%) to add 5.95 GW of solar PV and bring our cumulative solar capacity to more than 15 GW.

2009-03-17-solar.jpg

Europe was by far the global leader for solar demand, making up more than 80% of the worldwide total. And the national installation leader in 2008 was Spain at 2.46 GW, which overtook Germany with its 1.86 GW growth (though Germany remains the leader in total solar capacity at ~5.3 GW). US growth was third, with .36 GW, followed by South Korea, Italy, and Japan (at .28, .24, and .23 GW installed, respectively).

Production

The fastest production growth was in thin films, which grew 123% to .89 GW (or 15% of the PV market). Market share for PV producers from China and Taiwan grew from 35% in 2007 to 44% in 2008, taking advantage of lower costs.

Polysilicon growth shot up at a blistering rate of 127% and has eased the tightness in the polysilicon market. Tightness in 2008 caused solar prices to rise by 3% in 2008. But polysilicon capacity, which is ~43% located in the US, is now sufficient for an ample amount of solar PV at ~8.3 GW. Excess polysilicon capacity is expected to continue to grow in 2009 and allow solar prices to fall 20+%.

Global revenue for the solar industry rose to ~$37 billion. Such a high revenue total makes the solar industry begin to rival the substantial size of wind power. And the almost 2.5 GW of solar added in Spain makes 2008 solar competitive with record national markets for wind just a couple short years ago. The increased scale for solar makes the technology a contender to lower greenhouse gases significantly in the years ahead.

The deep global recession means 2009 is shaping up to be very different from 2008. Solar growth will slow below 25% (potentially below 20%) and the resulting oversupply will send prices and revenues down sharply. For producers who are able to keep developing in the tough year ahead by lowering their costs, 2010 promises to be another record-shattering year when solar joins the big leagues as a major player in the energy market.

And for its accomplishments in 2008, the solar industry should gain some respect. Six GW is a significant amount of energy, a stepping stone to much larger impact for this low-carbon energy available practically everywhere with a vast potential to replace fossil fuels in the decades ahead.

Onwards in the Sustainable Energy Transition!