Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy industry reached a world-wide production volume of 23.5 GW

The 2011 JRC PV Status Report indicates that the photovoltaic (PV) industry production more than doubled in 2010, thus reaching a world-wide production volume of 23.5 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic modules. It is a more than 500-fold growth compared to 1990 when the global production amounted to 46 megawatts (MW). Such increase makes the photovoltaics one of the fastest-growing industries at present.

This is the tenth edition of the JRC "PV Status Report", prepared by its Institute for Energy and Transport (IET). The report summarises and evaluates the results of a survey of more than 300 companies worldwide. It shows that with a cumulative installed capacity of over 29 GW, the European Union is leading in PV installations. By the end of 2010, European photovoltaic installations provided more than 70% of the total world-wide solar photovoltaic electricity generation capacity.

Photovoltaics is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity. It is one of the most promising technological options to realise the shift to a decarbonised energy supply. Current solar cell technologies are well-established with sufficient efficiency and energy output for at least 25 years of lifetime. This reliability, in addition to other factors, adds to the attractiveness of photovoltaic systems.

The photovoltaic industry has changed dramatically over the last few years. China has become the major manufacturing centre for solar cells and modules followed by Taiwan, Germany and Japan. Amongst the twenty biggest photovoltaic manufacturers in 2010, only four had production facilities in Europe, namely First Solar (USA, Germany, Malaysia, Vietnam), Q-Cells (Germany and Malaysia), REC (Norway and Singapore) and Solarworld (Germany and USA).

The prices of solar modules have seen a dramatic reduction by almost 50% over the last three years. Business analysts predict that investments in PV technology could double from € 35-40 billion in 2010 to over € 70 billion in 2015, while they expect prices for consumers to continuously decrease.

In the long-term, growth rates for photovoltaics are expected to remain high. The study concludes that in order to maintain the high growth rate of the photovoltaic industry, different pathways have to be pursued. There is a need to reduce the material consumption per silicon solar cell because the cost of silicon is one of the main price factors of such solar cells. In parallel, the manufacturing of thin-film solar cells should be increased and the introduction of concentrated photovoltaics (CPVs) should be accelerated. Concentrated photovoltaics (CPVs) is a new technology which substitutes semi-conductor material with cheaper concentrating lenses, typically of plastics.