The latest version of the Photovoltaics Report produced by German research body the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy Systems (ISE) has laid bare the state of European photovoltaic manufacturing at the end of 2020.
The continent had 22.1 GWp of solar-grade polysilicon production capacity at that point, according to an executive summary of the latest update of the document. According to the report, Europe’s polysilicon capacity was held by Norwegian-based, Chinese state-controlled manufacturer Elkem, and by German businesses Wacker and Silicon Products.
By contrast, Europe had just 1.25 GW of solar wafer production capacity at the end of 2020, according to the Fraunhofer ISE report, based in Norway, at Norsun and REC Silicon-owned Norwegian Crystals; and in France, at energy company EDF‘s Photowatt operation. The lack of European cell manufacturing capacity was even more glaring, with the study estimating just 650 MW of facilities, held by Finnish business Valoe, at its fab in Lithuania; by Italian energy business Enel in its homeland; and by Ecosolifer, in Hungary.
The market had 6.75 GW of solar module production capacity at the end of the year, however, spread across 29 companies identified by the research institute. That marked 3% of the world’s silicon solar module market last year, stated the report’s authors, with China contributing 67% as part of the 95% accounted for by the wider Asian region, and producers in the U.S. and Canada claiming 2%.
The study offered an insight into the energy payback time of a typical, Chinese-made, 60-cell, PERC, 19.9%-efficient solar module. Such a panel, mounted in India, would take only 160.6 days to generate the amount of energy consumed during its production process, with the figure rising all the way to 1.42 years – 518.3 days – in Canada. In the examples cited by the report’s authors, the balance-of-system, non-generating components required the most time to displace their energy footprint, between 138.7 and 167.9 days.
The statistics offered up by the Fraunhofer ISE included the facts PV accounted for 10.6% of Germany’s electricity generation capacity, 5.3% of Europe’s and 3.2% of the world’s. German rooftop PV systems cost between €890 and €1,850 per kilowatt-peak of capacity last year; large scale power plants in the nation offer a current levelized cost of energy of €0.031-0.057/kWh; and the lowest tendered tariff for solar electricity remains a €0.0433/kWh bid registered in February 2018.
Despite the dramatic shift in module production from Europe to Asia witnessed from 2010 onwards, Germany accounted for 7.6% of all the solar capacity installed worldwide by the end of last year, with Europe as a whole hosting 23%, China 36%, North America 12%, Japan 9%, India 6% and the rest of the world 14%, including off-grid capacity.
Referring to data provided by British market data company IHS Markit, the report estimated current inverter costs of €0.03-0.17/Wp for the string products which account for 64.4% of the market; €0.04/Wp for central inverters which cater to 33.7%; €0.08 for DC/DC power optimizers which have a 5.1% market share; and €0.25/Wp for the microinverters which occupy a 1.4% global niche.
Taking a longer view across numerous graphs, the study also illustrates how Germany’s solar feed-in tariff went off a cliff just as household electricity prices began a steady rise during 2008-13, and fleshed out how the nation added peak volumes of around 7-8 GWp of solar capacity in the years 2010, 2011 and 2012, immediately after production shifted to the Far East. For European manufacturers, however, it may be encouraging to see Germany’s installs back rising at a steady 1 GW or so per year since 2017.
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