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Global solar PV installations will grow by at least 3.5% and up to 21% this year, according to a new report from IMS Research. The company predicts that despite incentive cuts in most of the world's largest markets, global installations will grow from 26.9 GW in 2011 to between 27.8 GW and 32.6 GW this year - with Europe's share of installations falling from 69% last year to 50% this year.

IMS Research's latest demand database, which tracks installations in more than 60 countries, revealed that new PV installations reached 26.9 GW in 2011, and its most-likely forecast shows this growing to 27.8 GW this year. (The company notes that the figures are for installations and not grid connections; the figure for grid connections in 2011 would be much higher.)

"Despite many in the industry still expecting further doom and gloom, we in fact see a pickup in demand driven by falling system prices, a rush to beat incentive cuts, and the growing number of midsized emerging PV markets," says Ash Sharma, senior research director for photovoltaics at IMS Research.

The new report's "optimistic" forecast shows installations growing by 21% to 32.6 GW this year. "It is no longer a case of whether the PV market will grow in 2012; the real question now is by how much will it grow," Sharma notes. "When you only consider a handful of countries like Germany, Italy and France, it's easy to be pessimistic about demand. However, when you look further afield and analyze demand from 60 countries, the picture becomes much more positive."

According to the report, at least 23 countries will install 100 MW or more this year - up from just 17 last year.

"It is this geographic diversification that will help drive growth in global PV installations this year as the market becomes less dependent on just one or two markets," Sharma says. "Ultimately, it will also lead to stability for the industry in the longer term as the impact of a single country's policy will weaken," added Sharma.

Germany, however, is still predicted to remain the largest and most important PV market this year. Despite the overhaul to its feed-in-tariff policy, new installations are predicted to reach at least 6 GW this year, and up to 8.5 GW is possible, according to IMS Research. Such a result would have been almost unthinkable a few months back, but the company found that demand in the first quarter was extremely high in a rush to beat the incoming changes.

Although Germany will remain the largest market, IMS Research predicts that China will become the second largest, followed closely by Italy.

"China remains one of the most unpredictable factors in the global supply and demand balance," Sharma says. "With European demand faltering, the Chinese government is under increased pressure to accelerate domestic deployment to support its huge manufacturing base. Installations of up to 8 GW would be unlikely in China this year, but still a possibility."



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