The global solar industry grew +26.54% in 2019 with new capacity additions totalling 126.5GW. Total installations reached 357.8GW, an increase of +17.3% YOY. China alone accounted for 38.3GW of the total capacity added, followed by India, Japan and the United States.
The renewable energy source received a massive fillip from the Pandemic, with the sector recording its highest ever growth. New projects accounted for 56.4GW of the total 126.5GW of capacity added, a +41% increase compared to the average monthly growth rate of 23.8GW in 2019.
Looking ahead, the global solar industry is expected to continue growing at a steady pace, supported by government incentives such as tax breaks and purchase grants, as well as increased purchasing power from the rising middle class. Renewable energy advocates are working hard to ensure that the industry continues to expand, creating sustainable energy sources and new jobs.
How The Global Solar Industry Grew In 2019
The past year was a momentous one for the global solar industry, marked not only by record-breaking capacity additions and installations but also by the development of the Covid-19 pandemic. The year began with the world in a state of lockdown, with nations imposing stringent travel restrictions and businesses adjusting to a digital sphere.
The solar industry not only kept itself busy, but it also expanded rapidly, with 126.5GW of new capacity added across the world in 2019. The figure represents a +26.54% increase in comparison to 2018, when the industry added 100.8GW of capacity. The previous year had seen an uptick in solar manufacturing, with a record 29GW of new solar panels being shipped, but the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to any such growth. The majority of the capacity added in 2019 was for utility scale projects, with new installations in the U.S., China and India standing out. The U.S. was the world’s largest market in 2019, with an estimated 27.9GW of solar capacity, followed by China and India, both with an installed capacity of around 26.5GW.
The year 2019 was also notable for the number of major projects that were cancelled or delayed, primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With development costs rising with every passing year and economies struggling to reboot, many projects saw their budgets blown and were then shelved. Only those that were financially viable were able to complete construction. Several prominent solar projects were either postponed or temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, including the 600 MW solar farm in Bavaria, Germany, and the 500 MW SunMoon Bay solar power plant in South Korea. The 500 MW Blythe solar power plant in the U.S. was also not commissioned in 2019 due to the pandemic, while the 250 MW Akashi Solar power plant in Japan was completely halted in April 2020.
Record-breaking Year For Solar Energy
The world’s largest solar farm, the 120 MW SunEdison Europe 1 & 2, spans two hectares of land in Bavaria, Germany and produces enough energy to power 100,000 homes. The two European pylons, as it is known, are part of a 190 MW development, which will be the largest solar project in the world when complete. The original plant in Günther Hofmann Land in Bavaria, unveiled in April 2018 and built with the support of local businesses and residents, met its operational target of providing 20% of the energy needed for the development in December 2019. The project is the brainchild of U.S. energy company Acumen, which is also responsible for the upkeep and monitoring of the SunEdison facility. The U.S. company stated that the new solar farm is “highly efficient”, allowing it to save an estimated $600,000 per year compared to a traditional power plant.
One of the most prolific renewable energy companies, South Korean firm Hanwha Q-Cell, opened its fifth solar plant in the U.S., the 10 MW Blythe Solar Power Project, in the Californian city of Blythe. The company, which is valued at around $16 billion and was formed by the merger of Hanwha Q-Cell and solar power firm SunPower in 2018, became the first foreign company to gain permission to build a solar plant in the U.S. One of its main aims is to “accelerate the clean energy transition” in the U.S., creating thousands of jobs during the building phase and operating and maintaining the plant for the next 25 years. Like several other Hanwha Q-Cell solar plants, the Blythe facility will be built on a site that used to host a coal plant, and it will feature the company’s proprietary technology, HALO.
Record-breaking Growth In China, India And Japan
The biggest markets for the industry in 2019 were China and India, with an estimated 26.5GW and 26.4GW of solar capacity installed, respectively. The figures represent an increase of 12.7% and 11.6% YOY. The U.S. also had a record year, with 10.7GW of capacity installed, a +3.8% YOY increase. Several factors seem to have contributed to the growth of the solar industry in these markets, particularly in China, where demand is reportedly growing faster than the country’s GDP. According to government figures, the country’s installed capacity more than doubled in 2019, rising from 7.4GW to 16.2GW. The government has also reportedly targeted 30 GW of solar capacity by 2030.
In India, the government has set a goal of 175GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022, including 80GW of solar power. The country has the third largest number of people without electricity in the world, with 92.3 million people still lacking access to electricity in 2019. Several key projects were launched in India in 2019, including the 750 MW solar power project in Bihar, the 1,000 MW solar power project in Madhya Pradesh, and the 1,100 MW solar power project in Karnataka. The government is also taking steps to reduce electricity poverty by providing solar power subsidies and using its purchasing power to drive the import of solar equipment. The country has recently approved a record-breaking 600 GW of renewable energy projects, expected to come online between now and 2027.
Nuclear power also saw a revival in 2019, and countries around the world worked hard to expand their nuclear capacity. Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. were some of the big players in this field. The German government reportedly plans to expand its nuclear capacity by 14 GW by 2025 to ensure energy security and reduce CO2 emissions. The country’s efforts resulted in the country exporting its first batch of carbon-free electricity to Switzerland in September 2019.
Japan had another record-breaking year for renewable energy in 2019, with a 33% increase in installations. The country is well-known for its advanced technology and expertise in the field, and several companies and projects got the chance to showcase their products and services. The most prominent projects were the 500 MW SunMoon Bay solar power plant in South Korea and the 485 MW Takahama solar power plant in Japan, both of which are part of larger solar power plants being built in the country. The government also became a key player in the industry in 2019, investing heavily in solar power and other renewable energy sources. Several new solar projects got the go-ahead in 2019, including the 450 MW Kakiage solar power plant in Japan and the 160 MW Jinko solar power plant in China. Several solar companies also saw significant funding, with U.S. firm NRG becoming one of the biggest beneficiaries, receiving $16.8 billion in funding to build four more solar power plants in the U.S. The company also became one of the largest power producers in the country, operating three nuclear power plants and four fossil fuel-fired plants.
Several other countries also had records to break in 2019 for renewable energy installations, including Turkey, Romania and France. New solar power projects also got the go-ahead in 2019 in the Middle East, including the 350 MW Sheikh Khalifa solar power plant in Abu Dhabi and the 400 MW Tamoyome solar power plant in Oman. Several large-scale solar power projects also came online in 2019 in the Caribbean, including the 200 MW Boguefou solar power plant in Haiti and the 120 MW Liza solar power plant in Puerto Rico. In Africa, South Africa had a record year for renewable energy, with a 69% increase in installations. Several new solar projects popped up in the country, including the 200 MW Mmaba solar power plant in Limpopo and the 500 MW Kusile solar power plant in the country’s Eastern Cape. Several other African countries, including Egypt, Tanzania and Algeria, also had significant increases in renewable energy installations in 2019.