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More countries, led by India, to fuel solar growth

Even as factories crank out more and more solar panels, a new crop of countries could fill the shoes of Germany, which was about half the solar market last year.

BOSTON--Germany, Italy, and Spain may be the solar powerhouses of today, but in five years, a new set of countries led by India will emerge as leading consumers of solar technology, according to an analyst.

Lux Research solar analyst Ted Sullivan yesterday predicted that India, South Africa, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and the U.K. are among the countries best-suited to create the market demand for gigawatts worth of solar panels as established countries cool off.

A solar plant in Spain. Which countries will be the fast-growing solar markets after 2012? GE

Last year, Germany and Italy represented about two-thirds of the solar market, but solar growth in those countries is expected to level off this year as subsidies get scaled back. Also, once distributed solar reaches a certain penetration, it becomes challenging for grid operators to maintain stability without grid storage.

For solar manufacturers, which are cranking out higher and higher volumes of solar panels, the question of which country can become the "next Germany" and consume hundreds of megawatts of solar is an important question for the industry, said Sullivan during a presentation at the Lux Executive Summit here.

Japan, the U.S., and China are also large markets, representing about four gigawatts of capacity installed last year. But because of questions of subsidies and solar penetration in the grid, the question of where the bulk of demand lies after 2011 is still unclear, Sullivan said.

Bringing down the cost of solar and changing utility regulations to employ time-of-use pricing, in which peak power costs more, could make solar more attractive in emerging countries such as Mexico or Brazil, he said. In India, solar will likely need to be coupled with storage for off-grid applications to take hold, he added.

But even with the potential of some developing markets, Sullivan said it will take years for many of them to materialize. In five years, he predicted one-third of the 32 gigawatts of installed capacity will be in countries which have little solar power today.