As Prices Plunge, Solar Power Expected to Have Another Record Year in 2017

New solar energy capacity worldwide increased by 50 percent in 2016 and may well surpass that growth this year, according to a new report from the trade group SolarPower Europe.

The group said that in many countries, the rapidly falling price of solar photovoltaic panels now means that utility-scale solar power plants can produce electricity more cheaply than coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Last year, 76.6 gigawatts of solar power were installed worldwide, and SolarPower Europe said new installations could surpass 80 gigawatts this year, which would bring total global solar energy capacity to nearly 400 gigawatts. That’s enough to power more than 100 million homes in developed countries.

Referring to last year’s growth in solar energy installations, Christian Westermeier, president of SolarPower Europe, said, “For the first time, solar left behind its renewable energy peer, wind, in terms of annual installations.”

The rapid growth in solar energy is being led by China, which last year installed nearly half of all new solar energy capacity. SolarPower Europe said that given accelerating growth rates, the total amount of solar energy capacity worldwide could approach 1 terawatt — 1,000 gigawatts — in five years.

Solar panels in Dali City, Yunnan, People's Republic of China.

Solar panels in Dali City, Yunnan, People's Republic of China. ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK