The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by some 50% last year because of a sun rush in the US and China, new figures show.
New solar photovoltaic capacity installed in 2016 reached more than 76 gigawatts, a dramatic increase on the 50GW installed the year before. China and the US led the surge, with both countries almost doubling the amount of solar they added in 2015, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.
Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.
The industry called the growth “very significant” and said the technology was a crucial way for the world to meet its climate change commitments.
James Watson, the chief executive of SolarPower Europe, said: “In order to meet the Paris [climate agreement] targets, it would be important if solar could continue its rapid growth. The global solar industry is ready to do that, and can even speed up.”
In the UK the amount of solar power installed in 2016 fell by about half on the record level added the year before. The drop came after the government drastically cut incentives for householders to fit solar panels and ended subsidies for large-scale “solar farms”.
But despite the slowdown, the UK still led Europe for solar growth with 29% of new capacity, followed by Germany with 21% and France with 8.3%. Germany, which moved several years ago to subsidise and build a solar industry, still retains the crown for total solar capacity capacity, with Italy second top.
Across Europe, the total amount of solar power passed the symbolic milestone of 100GW in early 2016 and now stands at 104GW. However, slowing growth in Europe prompted the solar industry to call for the EU to set more ambitious renewable energy targets.
“We need to build a major industrial project around solar and renewables. To start with, increasing the 2030 renewable energy target to at least 35% [up from 27%] will send a strong signal that Europe is back in the solar business,” said Alexandre Roesch, policy director at SolarPower Europe.
European solar companies have also been urging the European commission to rethink the anti-dumping tariffs it imposed on Chinese solar panels in 2013. The commission is looking to extend the tariffs by 18 months, shorter than previously planned, after opposition to them from member states.
Nearly half of the solar installed last year was in China, with Asia as a whole making up two-thirds of new capacity in 2016.
Solar is still a relative minnow in the electricity mix of most countries, the figures show. Even where the technology has been embraced most enthusiastically, such as in Europe, solar on average provides 4% of electricity demand.