The International Energy Agency (IEA) has significantly upped their global installation predictions of new solar power and other renewable energy technology through 2022. This updated growth prediction is greatly based upon the significant acceleration of solar power being installed in China and the abruptly falling prices of large installations.

Specifically, the IEA raised predictions of renewable energy being deployed in the next five years by greater than 33%. The generally conservative group even left open that there could be still more growth, 30% above what’s already projected in a situation “where government policy lifts barriers to growth.”

Record low pries for large-scale construction groups signing power purchase agreements with government entities lit up the news multiple times last year – breaking 3¢/kWh first in May and then diving 25% lower five months later.

The biggest driver of the changes in this report are that solar power, in particular, had a huge growth year in 2016. Expanding from 50GW installed in 2015 to around 74GW installed in 2016. China led all countries by installing 46% of the global solar volume – 34GW – this caught many by surprise. The United States grew its solar power installation volume by over 100% from 7GW in 2015 to 14.6GW in 2016, and when combined with China’s volume represented 66% of global installations.

Future renewable energy deployments during the years 2017-2022 are expected to be 920GW. Solar power is expected to grow by 438GW, from a current global volume of about 320GW – which would represent 136% more solar over the five year period. Wind power would be the second largest contributor at 321GW, with hydropower adding another 119GW.

The biggest part of the story is China’s future growth. Of the 920GW of renewable energy coming, China is expected to build 318GW of that volume. That amount is about equal to 324GW from the next four largest groups – the US, India, Japan and the EU – combined.

Off grid solar growth is now large enough that the IEA has decided to track it. 2019 is expected to be the first time 1GW of off grid solar is installed in a single year. By the end of 2022 – it’s expected that there will be 3GW total off grid.

Electrek’s Take

The total projected solar number is short changing what is actually going to come – by a lot. In 2017, various groups are predicting that solar power will hit 100GW of total volume installed. If we install 100GW of solar in 2017 – and grow at a very conservative 15% a year in the years 2018-2022 – the total volume installed of solar power would be 875GW of volume. This amount is almost exactly double the IEA’s predicted 438GW of volume – with the IEA’s number being hit sometime in 2020. Even if my ‘conservative’ estimate of 15% is growth is too much – 2017’s number alone, the 100GW  referenced above as part of 438GW, means the last five years of the 2017-2022 time period will need average only 67GW/year. That would be a contraction of the market by 33GW a year. No one is predicting that.

The IEA gets a lot of flack for constantly underestimating the total solar power volume that will be installed. They state their mission is to explain solar power growth within the current framework of the political process and relatively conservative price declines. The IEA couldn’t have – and no one else other than Ray Kurzweil did – predicted the 2016 price drops. Even the US Department of Energy was caught flat footed when their 2020 goal of $1/W was hit almost three years early. Clearly, the IEA, knowing they’d get some pressure for these estimates, tries to give themselves some cover when they say,

Under an accelerated case – where government policy lifts barriers to growth – IEA analysis finds that renewable capacity growth could be boosted by another 30%, totalling an extra 1,150 GW by 2022 led by China.

Solar PV and wind capacity in China could by then reach twice the total power capacity of Japan today.

I am highly confident there will be far more solar power installed than the 569GW that even the “accelerated case” of the IEA has projected.

A summary of the high points of the report are shown in this video by the IEA:

Header image a 700MW solar plant built Huawei in Ningxia, China

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