Power Electronics

Photovoltaics' Rising Sun Moving West

Japan has led the field of commercial photovoltaics for years (Sharp, the country's largest vendor, accounts for 25% of the world's supply) but now, according to a new report from ABI Research called "Global Photovoltaic Markets," the balance of activity is shifting to Europe—specifically to Germany. One reason for this shift, according to ABI Research analyst Josh Laurito, is that a number of Japanese government initiatives that have nurtured the industry for almost a decade are starting to expire. At the same time, Germany has subsidized the sale of photovoltaically generated electricity back into the national grid at attractive prices—the so-called "feed-in tariff". The law also forces utility companies to buy this power, which has produced a stable investment environment.

"As a result," says Laurito, "the market in Germany has exploded, with demand far outstripping supply. There is a huge shortage of photovoltaic cells and modules." Another big shift in the pattern of German photovoltaic deployment is that, in contrast to early models aimed a providing small amounts of power to poor and remote regions of the world, it is now a matter for big investors who are building large solar "parks" covering many hectares, typically built on brownfield sites.

However, some clouds are appearing. Public opposition to these installations is growing on aesthetic and environmental grounds. This is leading some local governments to look favorably on more expensive "building-integrated" installations that use building elements, such as shingles that function as solar panels. This report suggests that eventually Chinese rural electrification and other projects in Asia may move the industry's base east again. Nevertheless, for the moment, the sun is shining brightly over Europe.

For more information, visit www.abiresearch.com.

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