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Solar PV thrived in 2020, despite the pandemic

The solar photovoltaic industry presented another year of solid growth in 2020, despite the pandemic. 2020 is estimated having an impressive growth of 107-115 GW new solar PV capacity, matching the previous record set in 2019. The situation in the solar PV industry is in high contrast with other energy segments, which saw a dramatic year ranging from a total disaster and partial recovery for oil to moderate performance for natural gas markets. Out-performance in installations was observed in multiple locations, most among solar PV leaders China, US, Japan, Germany and Australia. According to several sources global solar PV installations in 2021 will range from 117 to 194 GW.

Solar PV technician linking a PV connector
Construction and connection of new solar PV capacity continues at record pace despite the pandemic.

The highly optimistic forecast for 142 GW annual installations in early 2020 by IHS Markit and other similar forecasts were quickly revised down upon the onset of global pandemic. By May 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) revised its 2020 forecast down to as low as 91 GW. However, the PV industry had quickly recovered in leading markets, driving the IEA to re-estimate its target to 107 GW by the end of the year. With updated figures, 2020 is now estimated to undergo an impressive growth of 115 GW new solar PV capacity, almost matching the previous 117 GW record set in 2019.

In more detail, according to IEA the utility scale PV segment was impacted in March and April, but quickly recovered. On the other hand deployment of distributed PV slowed down in large markets such as China and the United States remained slow, although activity in most European markets, Australia and Brazil had fully recovered. The distributed PV segment (industrial, commercial and residential) however reduced to 37% of total deployments.

In 2021, there are conflicting forecasts due to high level of uncertainty. The IEA forecast a conservative growth pace of 117 GW through the year. Bloomberg NEF has a much more aggressive forecast of 150-194 GW solar PV installations. In any case, this year solar PV will be significantly surpassing other competing electricity generation technologies including both conventional coal and gas, as well as renewable wind and hydro.

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