'Just' 29GW of PV in 2012, says report

Global PV demand reached just 29GW last year, according to market researcher NPD Solarbuzz, contradicting a recent report from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), which pegs the figure at 30GW and believes it may yet go up.

The 29GW figure from NPD Solarbuzz would imply a year-on-year expansion of the global PV market of 5%, the first time in a decade that annual growth fell short of 10%.

Even 29GW, however, would still be a record on the 27.7GW that Solarbuzz says was added last year. And in a sign of just how quickly the industry has grown in recent years, it would still be equivalent to a whopping 30% of the cumulative worldwide PV capacity connected to the grid at the end of 2012.

Regardless of the final figures, it is clear that the reality of the 2012 market did not stack up to the outsized expectations touted by many in the industry last year -- and even into early 2013.

Some had predicted a market as large as 35GW in 2012, as module companies “looked for positive signs that the supply-demand imbalance was being corrected and profit levels would be restored quickly”, says Michael Barker, senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz.

“For supply and demand to have been balanced during 2012, end-market demand should have approached the 45GW level,” Barker says, which is why “even those companies that gained market share in 2012 still ended up reporting significant operating losses”.

Europe’s share of end-demand fell to less than 60% last year, or 16.5GW total, from 82% in 2010, according to Solarbuzz. Asia added 8.7GW and the Americas 3.7GW, one-third of which came in California.

NPD Solarbuzz did not offer a demand forecast for 2013, but stresses that emerging PV markets will be key to the industry reaching a healthier supply-demand balance, and ultimately exceeding the 30GW annual run-rate level.