Photovoltaic Power Systems in Selected IEA Member Countries

by H Barnes, Operating Agent for Task 1 of the IEA
Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme


Terrestrial photovoltaic (PV) systems have traditionally been used to power high-value, off-grid, non-domestic applications such as tele-communications and navigational aids. However, in the past 20 years costs have steadily decreased and the use of PV in remote areas for both domestic and non-domestic applications is, increasingly, a commercially attractive proposition. More recently, the potential to connect PV systems to utility power supply (grid) has been recognised and demonstration projects have been installed in many countries.

A survey of the status of PV power systems applications and markets has been carried out in 17 participating countries1 of the IEA Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme. This article summarises the results of the survey at the end of 1995 and analyses the trends in PV system implementation since 1992.


Four primary applications of PV were identified in this survey:

  • off-grid domestic;
  • off-grid non-domestic;
  • on-grid distributed;
  • on-grid centralised.

The installed power for all the applications has increased steadily since 1992. The PV power systems market is defined here as the market for all nationally installed (terrestrial) PV applications rated at 40 Wp or more.

Figure 1 shows the cumulative PV power installed by application in the 17 participating countries for the years 1990 to 1995. The installed power increased from 53.5 MWp in 1990 to 175.7 MWp in 1995, an average year-on-year growth rate of over 27%


Figure 1: Cumulative installed PV power by application in the reporting countries.


In the PV industry the current trend is towards increased manufacturing capacity and large investments have been made in new manufacturing facilities. Larger and more efficient production plants, which utilise the latest technologies, are crucial in reducing production costs and further developing the market.

Production of PV modules for power applications in the reporting countries in 1995 was 56 MWp (about 80% of world production). Of this 56 MWp, 44% was produced in the USA, 20% in Japan, 9% in Spain, 7% in Germany, 7% in Austria, 4% in France, 3% in Italy and 1% in Switzerland.

Table 1 (overleaf) shows the total quantity of PV power modules produced in the reporting countries in the years 1993 and 1995 and compares this to the total production capacity at the time. Although production and capacity both increased, the utilisation of capacity for module production remained fairly constant at around 50%.

In 1995, crystalline silicon accounted for nearly 90% of PV module production and just under 91% of production capacity; the remainder was amorphous silicon production. Crystalline silicon dominates the world market for PV power producing modules as distinct from the consumer products market, which is dominated by amorphous silicon.

Thin film technologies, using materials such as amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, copper indium diselenide and thin film silicon are continuously improving. These materials could offer lower costs due to their reduced requirements for raw materials and suitability for large-scale production processes. Some pre-commercial production is now underway with a number of new manufacturing plants being planned. Plans to increase production capacity of crystalline silicon by 35 MWp and of amorphous silicon by 10 MWp have been announced.

The estimated value of the PV business in the reporting countries was about $713 million in 1995 (where $ is the US dollar), of which Germany, Japan and the USA shared 65%. The value of business was based on the total turnover of module manufacturers, consultancies and system suppliers. A significant proportion of this business ($338 million) was associated with R&D demonstration and market stimulation programmes.

Table 1: PV module production and capacity in the reporting
IEA countries in 1993 and 1995.




Capacity (MWp)



Production (MWp)




Reported factory prices to distributors for a small order (less than 1 kWp) of crystalline silicon modules ranged from $4.4/Wp in the USA to $11.8/Wp in Switzerland, with an average price in the reporting countries of $5.5/Wp. For a large order of crystalline silicon modules (greater than 100 kWp) the average price was $4.9/Wp. For amorphous silicon modules, the average price was $4.9/Wp for a small order, and $4.1/Wp for a large order.


Early demonstration and field test programmes emphasised off-grid systems and in some countries, particularly those with rural populations not connected to the grid, these programmes are still being supported.

In recent years, as interest has grown in grid-connected applications, demonstration programmes for on-grid distributed PV systems have been set up in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The "1,000 Roofs Programme" set up in Germany in 1990 was oversubscribed and resulted in the installation of nearly 2,000 systems (average power 2.64 kWp) on domestic roofs by the end of 1995; in Japan, over 6 MWp had been installed for residential and public facilities; and in Switzerland nearly 1.7 MWp had been installed as a result of demonstration programmes by the end of 1995.

On-grid centralised PV power plants have been demonstrated in some countries where there is a strong utility interest in PV and conditions are suitable in terms of climate and land availability. PV power plants have been installed in Italy, where a 3.3 MWp system has involved a utility company; in Spain where a 1 MWp system has been installed; and in the USA where a number of programmes involving utilities are underway.


The perception of PV appears to be generally favourable within the reporting countries. Electricity utilities have been showing an increasing level of interest in PV. In some countries utilities have taken the lead
in the installation of PV systems. Public perception of PV also appears to be positive although the level of awareness is still low in some countries.


By the year 2000, PV module production is likely to be in the region of 140 MWp per year with over 550 MWp of PV power installed, of which 64% would be off-grid systems and 36% on-grid systems.

A number of countries have published targets for the installation of PV systems: the Netherlands intends to install 250 MWp of grid-connected PV by the year 2010 and 1,250 MWp by 2020; Japan aims to install 400 MWp by 2000 and 4,600 MWp by 2010; Switzerland intends to install 50 MWp by the year 2000. There are many future opportunities within the field of PV both for those within the PV industry and for potential users of the

For further information and a copy of the report "Photovoltaic power systems in selected IEA member counties"
please contact Mr Harry Barnes
EA Technology Ltd, Capenhurst Chester CH1 6ES, United Kingdom
Tel: + 44 151 347 2212
Fax: + 44 151 347 2226

Footnote 1: The countries which participated in the survey are Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States

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