Press Release

Japan Nuclear Crisis Boosts European Solar Markets


The earthquake-related nuclear disaster in Japan could prove to be a boon to the photovoltaic (PV) industry in Germany and Italy, the world’s two largest solar markets, which have become sensitized to the dangers of a nuclear meltdown, according to new IHS iSuppli research.

“Reaction to the Fukushima nuclear crisis has been swift in Germany and Italy,” said Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst for photovoltaic systems at IHS. “Germany responded quickly by shutting down seven of its oldest reactors, potentially boosting the prospects for renewable energy in the country. Meanwhile, Italy indicated it might upgrade the role of solar within the country and accept higher volumes of sun-powered energy.”

In the wake of the Japanese disaster, debate quickly flared up on an appropriate course of action and energy policy in Germany—the world’s largest solar market—although some of the response was thought to be political posturing and an attempt to influence forthcoming regional elections.

By the third quarter, it will be apparent whether the German government will proceed with a rapid exit path from nuclear power. Assuming that a decision to abandon nuclear energy is reached, renewable energy will be promoted even more strongly, IHS predicts.

Wind dominates current public discussions, but solar energy possibly could benefit as well. One possible course of action that could benefit the solar industry would boost the annual PV installation forecast. Germany likely could increase the annual PV installation target for after 2010 to 5 GW, up from 3.5 GW now, increasing the long-term outlook for solar.

Solar Seasons
Despite potential impacts on the long-term outlook, PV installations in Germany in 2011 still are expected to follow a similar pattern to that of 2010—with the exception of a four-week delay this year, because prices didn’t fall fast enough to enable investment conditions for the German market to take off. Installation growth will accelerate in April and then peak in June, followed by a cooling-down period in the third quarter. The fourth quarter is expected to be strong again, just before new regulations and feed-in tariffs (FIT) are applied in 2012, IHS iSuppli research indicates.

All told, PV installations in Germany in 2011 are projected to reach 7.2 (GW), down 3.5 percent from 7.4 GW in 2010. Growth this year will oscillate, with moderate expansions in the first and third quarters alternating with very strong increases in the second and fourth quarters.

 German PV Installation

Italy in a Bind
In Italy, the second-largest solar market in the world after Germany, the government announced a hold on all plans for future nuclear power stations during the next 12 months while it re-evaluates the role of atomic energy for the country.

Ironically, this has occurred at a time when PV demand in Italy has come to a near halt because of the government’s actions. The Italian government’s announcement on March 3—eight days prior to the Japanese disaster—that it would launch a new FIT program with fewer incentives by early June came as a shock to the local solar industry, causing installation activity to stop immediately. Solar investors in Italy expressed concerns about not being able to meet the end-of-May deadline for any PV installations that they were to undertake, for fear of running afoul of the expected new guidelines. According to unofficial reports, the annual cap would be placed at 1 GW, and ground installations on farmland would be limited to just 1 megawatt in size.

As a result, installation activity that was at a significant level in January and February for large Italian solar plants has all but stopped, and the only projects continuing at this point are those that are almost finished. Meanwhile, resistance to the government’s new plans has gained significant momentum, even though Rome still has to negotiate the final scheme, expected sometime in mid-April.

With both sides at loggerheads, the pressure created by the solar lobby in Italy likely will force the government to reconsider its new plans so that they do not push through, IHS believes. Furthermore, the Fukushima incident will lead to a new assessment of nuclear and solar energy in the country. Not including the possible effect of the Japan crisis in the months to come, the Italian PV market is expected to develop very positively in 2011, with an expected cap of 1.5 to 2.0 GW from 2012 onward.

Read More > PV: Navigating a New Round of Policy Changes