The IEA-PVPS has used an improved method to determine that newly installed solar capacity in 2022 must be between the 190 GW calculated by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the 268 GW reported by BloombergNEF. Its new “Snapshot of Global PV Markets 2023” report was based on data from a variety of sources, including grid-connected and off-grid figures.
For several years now, conflicting information has been published about the market and market growth forecasts. It is expected that the decentralized nature of solar power will make the preparation of these estimates complex and open to interpretation, especially as solar development increases in countries with reduced ability to monitor and report solar installations. But the result of this difficulty for international organizations and consulting companies to report similar figures is that confidence in the market figures and subsequently in the solar industry in general is reduced.
The published capacity for 2022 is between 192 GW (IRENA) and 268 GW (BNEF), and the reality is certainly somewhere in between: IEA-PVPS considers 240 GW to be a decent estimate of the actual installed value calculated as Watt-Peak or DC installed capacity. While IRENA refers to AC numbers (or power of inverters or grid connection when data is available), IEA-PVPS reports DC numbers or nominal power of PV modules. Although AC and DC numbers both represent reality, DC numbers make it easier to calculate energy production, while AC numbers refer to the theoretical maximum output of solar power plants.
This AC-DC difference is at the heart of many misconceptions about PV capacity reporting, and it can be difficult to get a clear picture of what the market looks like. Most recently, the Chinese announced in 2022 that their reporting was AC – not DC, as international experts had understood, which changed the final installation numbers by a significant factor:
China’s National Energy Administration reported 87 GW installed in China in 2022, compared to 106 GW according to the IEA-PVPS Snapshot of Global PV Markets 2023, an estimate based on AC-DC ratios in China’s utility-scale PV plants.
Given this seemingly wide range of values for data points published by serious, reputable organizations, it can be difficult to decide whose data to use. As a rule of thumb, when two completely different figures are published, it is likely that one organization will publish DC capacity and the other AC capacity, but what other factors should be considered?
Many factors can affect the reporting of new annual or cumulative solar capacity – there is no international reporting framework for solar – and each country has its own reporting practices that vary depending on the data collector and the purpose of the data collection. In many emerging markets, off-grid or grid-edge installations are often not reported. Distributed applications cannot always be tracked properly, and policies add uncertainty to the numbers.
Why does IEA-PVPS choose DC numbers? Electricity production and market turnover, solar module surfaces and land use are more closely related to the direct current of the module than to the alternating current of the system. When extrapolating from these values, other factors must of course be taken into account, such as the pollution of electricity production (see IEA-PVPS 2022 Task 13 Pollution losses – Impact on the performance of solar power plants) or average system costs in different countries. market turnover segments (see IEA-PVPS Task 1 National Survey reports for participating countries).
A margin of uncertainty remains even with data from primary and reliable sources, as national experts and analysts have in some cases converted AC capacity to DC, while different reporting practices may mean that enhanced and decommissioned capacity are calculated differently or not at all. Microsystems (plug&play) may not be reported in some countries, and it is often the same when offline. In countries with less robust data collection methods, approximate sources and expert estimates provide an adequate picture, given the low total number.
The Snapshot of Global PV Markets 2023, recently published by IEA-PVPS, is based on data provided by national and international experts, internal data collection and analysis by the authors of the reports. It counts both on-grid and off-grid when figures are reported and estimates unreported installations. and converting installation capacity data to direct current. Snapshot aims to provide consistent, accurate and useful data that allows comparison between countries and years.
A growing market
The 240 GW reported this year is an estimate based on the best available numbers and covers a large portion of the global solar market. However, uncertainty exists and must be taken into account. Compared to 175 GW installed in 2021, the growth of the PV market could already be considered in line with the increased interest in solar energy. The reality goes further, as by the end of 2022, at least 44 GW of solar power was supplied but kept in storage for future installation. Production volumes of cells and wafers were in the region of 300 GW, indicating strong manufacturing confidence in market growth.
The delays caused by the pandemic seen in 2020 and 2021 and its effect on the production and installation of solar electricity have been at least partially compensated for in 2022, but they will also affect 2023, when the growth rate will be significantly faster than the actual installation figure.
To ensure informed decision making, it is important to choose the right data source and understand its limitations and benefits. As an early look at last year’s global PV market, the Snapshot provides readers with a quick overview of market and policy trends that will be further explored in the ‘Trends in PV Applications’ publication in the fourth quarter of 2023. With 240 GW and more in storage ready for installation, the PV market is growing rapidly, while insufficient reporting is clouding the perception of this growth.
Stronger methods at the national level, especially in developing countries, for tracking and reporting solar installations would support the energy transition. True collaboration between agencies would also support better reporting and avoiding competing figures, while increasing the complexity of the entire energy ecosystem.