• IEA PVPS’ latest Task 1 report says global solar PV installations in 2021 reached 175 GW
  • Utility scale solar remained the main driver but there is a spurt in self-consumption applications and long term PPAs that contribute to its uptake
  • Share of bifacial solar cells in the global market reached 50% in 2021, and is expected to grow to over 60% in 2022, thanks to their exemption from US safeguard duties
  • Solar module production in 2021 was a total of 242 GW with China contributing 181.8 GW to the total

In a world mired in geopolitical tensions and resource scarcity, solar PV technology presents itself as an affordable, local and low-carbon energy source, and may become a stabilization element, promoting peace through reduced tensions in energy markets, states the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA PVPS).

In its latest report titled Trends in Photovoltaic Applications 2022 under Task I, the IEA PVPS attempts to present and interpret developments in the PV power systems market and the evolving applications for these products. It provides an overview of PV power systems applications, markets and production in the reporting countries.

According to the report, with the addition of 175 GW new solar PV capacity installed last year, globally operational solar power capacity at the end of 2021 reached 946 GW (945.7 GW to be precise). It was an annual increase of 22% despite the disruption related to COVID-19 without which the numbers would have grown to 200 GW.

The global business value of PV sector in 2021 amounted to around $190 billion with its global business value growing 19% annually.

China continues to hold tight its grip as the country with the largest solar PV market share globally at 32%, however the growth of various markets has ensured that top 10 global PV markets now account for 76% of the global market share in 2021, up from 57% in 2011.

A total of 42 nations reached at least 1 GW capacity in 2021 while 18 nations installed at least 1 GW last year. In terms of PV penetration per capita, Australia stands on top with 1011W per capita, followed by the Netherlands with 818 W per capita and Germany with 718 W per capita.

Rise in module prices due to raw material supply challenges, starting from the end of 2021, have not affected the competitiveness and development of the market, thanks to the rapid decline in prices over the past years supported by the world’s need to decarbonize and become self-sufficient in energy generation.

Even as utility scale solar continues to be the main driver of solar installations globally, long term power purchase agreements (PPA) and self-consumption of electricity through distributed PV are growing trends. One of the key trends of 2021, as described by the report writers, is the wide development of utility scale plants without financial incentives making its potential ‘virtually unlimited’.

“If electricity prices should remain at the high level experienced in 2022 in several places around the world in 2022, especially in Europe, the question of competitiveness would change completely: without any support scheme limitations, the potential of the PV market seems virtually unlimited,” reads the report.

In terms of global solar PV manufacturing capacity, the world produced about 644,100 tons polysilicon, including for semiconductor grade, but close to 94% of this was used for solar cell production in 2021. China alone produced 623,000 tons. In 2022, China’s polysilicon production capacity is expected to reach 992,000 tons annually. Germany is the 2nd largest polysilicon producer having generated 65,000 tons annually, and Malaysia another 30,000 tons.

Global wafer manufacturing capacity amounted to 415 GW in 2021 from 218 GW annually in 2020, reflecting an increase in cs-Si wafers thanks to growing demand for high efficiency modules. China produced 226.6 GW wafers in 2021 out of which 22.6 GW were exported to PV cell manufacturing nations as Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan and India. Wafers now use Tungsten wires instead of diamond wafers to reduce wafer thickness.

Solar cell production last year was 241 GW including both c-Si and thin-film, while global cumulative annual manufacturing capacity of cells was 441 GW at the end of 2021. China’s capacity was 360 GW of the total.

Share of bifacial solar cells in the global market reached 50%, and is expected to grow to over 60% in 2022, due mainly to exemption for bifacial products from the US safeguard duties. When combined with single axis trackers, its production increases making it a favorite.

Chinese companies continue to hog the PV production chain and of course PV module shipments, according to the IEA PVPS. (Source: IEA PVPS)

Solar module production in 2021 was a total of 242 GW with China contributing 181.8 GW to the total. Total annual module production capacity of the world was 483 GW. The Asian giant also shipped the largest number of modules in its history with 98.5 GW. Increase in glass, polysilicon and EVA prices due to tight supply pushed up module prices in 2021.

“It is expected that the expansion of the manufacturing capacity of these materials will stabilize the prices and the replacement of EVA to polyolefin will be advanced,” adds the report.