Did anyone really see the explosive growth of solar photovoltaic (PV) power coming? And the effect that solar power, much of which serves on-site or local loads, is having on electricity systems?

As the International Energy Agency reported in April, the global solar PV market broke records again during 2106, with 75 GW of generating capacity added, taking the world-wide total to over 300 GW. And solar is an area where Asian countries are starting to take charge – nearly half of the total new capacity in 2016 was installed in China. Meanwhile Japan, India, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines all saw healthy growth.

As the IEA sees it, where PV was once driven by financial incentives in developed countries, much recent progress has been in developing countries of Asia, where solar power helps to satisfy growing electricity needs. The US still doubled its PV capacity in 2106, while in Europe, annual growth was down on the peak levels of 2015, mainly due to reduced support. In all areas, falling technology prices have been decisive.

The recent growth of electricity storage is another new accelerant for solar power. As part of its tracking of microgrid projects, Navigant Consulting has identified 500 MW of new solar microgrid projects around the world. While diesel capacity remains the lead generation technology for microgrids, its dominance is shrinking, says Navigant, which says that nearly 2,000 projects already operate globally, including 173 new projects in the last six months. Just as well, as traditional power grid network technologies are increasingly seen as inadequate for the emerging new energy system of decentralized generation and electricity storage.

Another growth area for microgrids is where CHP is incorporated, often alongside other distributed generation plant. Indeed modern microgrids may represent the biggest new opportunity for CHP in decades, adds Navigant.

A decade ago, the Paris-based IEA was running an active CHP/DHC (district heating and cooling) ‘collaborative’ project that brought countries from around the world together to swap data and information on support policies that actually deliver new CHP and DHC projects. Today, the 29-country agency also runs programmes on solar PV, and solar heating and cooling, among others – all with a view to ‘promoting a clean energy revolution to break dependence on fossil fuels.’