Solar power became the most-installed energy source in Europe last year for the first time as subsidies drove investment to records, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association said.
Installations of photovoltaic panels in the region surged 63 percent to 21.9 gigawatts, surpassing all new wind and gas-fired power capacity combined, a report set to be presented today by the trade group shows. Wind and gas plants connected in 2011 amounted to about 9.5 gigawatts each, it said.
European countries installed 75 percent of global capacity, benefitting from lower panel prices and guaranteed premiums for the energy. As they have for the past decade, photovoltaic markets again grew faster than expected both in Europe and around the world, according to EPIA.
Global installations reached 29.7 gigawatts last year, compared to 16.8 gigawatts during 2010, the new report shows. Italy and Germany accounted for 60 percent of this market with 9.3 and 7.5 gigawatts, respectively.
These market shares are unsustainable, and such fast growth globally is set to slow as countries reduce subsidies, according to the Brussels-based association. While the industry is weathering a period of uncertainty, over the medium and long terms the prospects of continued growth are good, it said.
For 2012, EPIA forecast a drop in new European solar capacity to anywhere between 21.6 and 9.4 gigawatts, a range that highlights the economic uncertainties the region faces.
Solar panels installed in Europe last year generated almost 30 percent of the electricity produced by all new power plants in the region, the report shows. They generated about 26 terawatt-hours, at the same level of gas plants, which have higher efficiency.
The trade group said if installations levels for solar and wind power remain stable next year, they will produce enough electricity to compensate for the eight German nuclear reactors closed in 2011, though atomic power typically can run round the clock.
While Europe amounted for the majority of new global solar capacity last year, other markets are set to reduce this share. Non-European markets are showing signs that they may soon shift this balance in their favor, led by China, the U.S. and Japan, according to EPIA.
The lobby group sees new global solar capacity of about 20.6 to 41.4 gigawatts in 2013, rising to between 38.8 and 77.3 gigawatts in 2016.