Shooting for the Sun
Fifteen of the world’s global solar PV developers are responsible for 26.4GW of installed utility-scale solar capacity, according to a report by GTM Research. What is driving this incredible solar PV growth and who are the top five major players? Molly Lempriere finds out
THE SOLAR INDUSTRY HAS DEVELOPED RAPIDLY IN RECENT YEARS, WITH GLOBAL CAPACITY INCREASING FROM JUST 1.5GW IN 2005 TO 98GW IN 2017. THE SIZE OF SOLAR POWER DEVELOPERS HAS GROWN ALONGSIDE THE MARKET, FROM SMALL COMPANIES TO THOSE EMPLOYING THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE AND INSTALLING HUGE ARRAYS.
GTM Research’s recent report, Top 15 Global Utility Solar PV Developers, details the world’s largest solar PV developers, which between them account for 20% of installed utility-scale solar capacity worldwide. The growth in the market has been enabled by a number of factors, both economic and environmental.
“The key driver has been falling PV module costs; costs have come down by almost 90% during this period and are set to reduce further over the next five years or so,” says GTM Research senior solar analyst Tom Heggarty, who authored the report. “Policy is also, generally, favourable to solar PV and there are some pretty aggressive targets for growth in countries around the world; the cost reductions have helped governments justify these higher targets.”
The 15 utility-scale global solar PV developers now account for 26.4GW of operational capacity. Between them there is 40GW worth of capacity in the pipeline, as the solar expansion continues worldwide, in particular in the US where 44% of pipeline projects are planned.
There are a number of hallmarks of successful solar PV developers. They are “comfortable operating in an extremely competitive market, where returns are relatively low compared to other areas of the energy industry, though this is offset by solar's low risk profile,” says Heggarty.
“[They are] geographically diversified – concentrating solely on one market where there are currently favourable policies is a big risk; we've seen many instances where policies have been changed in an unfavourable way for PV. That can mean markets grind to a halt pretty quickly. [Solar developers must be] able to move quickly across different markets. There are new markets being opened up on a regular basis, so being nimble and being able to take advantage of new opportunities is really important.”
The pipeline projects give an insight into broader solar trends, such as the increase in interest in emerging markets. Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa were previously small markets, accounting for just 12% of the developer’s operational projects.
As policy and investment has improved in recent years, however, the number of pipeline projects has increased. Emerging markets now account for 28% of pipeline projects for these 15 leading solar developers. Here we profile the top five developers of solar PV, as identified by GTM Research.