It is becoming evident that the move towards renewable energy is gathering unstoppable momentum, and one driving force behind this is the rise of solar power.
Indeed, such is the rate of growth in the sector that even such respected organisations as the International Energy Agency (IEA) are starting to realise that they have been too conservative in their estimates for future solar expansion.
Each year the IEA publishes its World Energy Outlook report, which is a highly respected set of predictions on the future of energy production, including renewables.
At the start of 2016 it predicted that globally an extra 50GW of capacity would be added annually until levelling out and starting to decline in the coming years. This figure of 50 GW was in fact equal to the capacity added in 2015. The reality turned out to be significantly different with 76 GW added after a surge of demand, principally from China. The total installed world solar generation capacity stood at 306 GW by the end of the year.
So it can be seen that the IEA significantly underestimated the growth in 2016, possibly because of China's new enthusiasm for solar. However, Auke Hoekstra, a head researcher at the Technical University of Eindhoven in The Netherlands, has pointed out that there is nothing new in these underestimates. He says that the IEA consistently predicts a linear model of growth, when history has shown an exponential rise in capacity.
To illustrate his point he drew up this graph which shows IEA predictions from a far back as 2002 and compared them to reality.
Graph by Auke Hoekstra via Twitter
2017 has seen considerable activity in the global solar market. One milestone was reached when the total of utility-scale capacity passed the 100 GW mark by the end of March.
While initial frontrunners such as Germany, Spain, the UK and Italy have seen growth slow, this was more than made up by the spectacular rises in capacity in the top markets of China, the US and India. Looking to the future, whole new markets for utility scale solar are opening up, with ambitious projects in the Middle East, Chile, Japan and South Africa. Mexico and Australia are next on the list of countries expected to see big growth, each having major projects in the development stages.
One thing is for sure, solar power is sustainable and here to stay.