Big numbers:
The Swiss photovoltaic market in numbers

Interest in solar energy has never been greater than it is now. The photovoltaic market in Switzerland is still growing at a rapid pace. PV module sales are experiencing a serious boom. You might have already noticed it yourself: if you delve into the topic of photovoltaics nowadays, you inevitably come across a number of positive headlines and optimistic forecasts for the future.

But what does that mean in practice? How strong is the PV market in Switzerland? We have pored over the statistics books for you and taken a close look at the current numbers.

Impressive figures

According to the “Solar Energy Statistics” of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE), the annual solar power production in Switzerland has shown a continuous sharp increase since 2010. In 2010, this came to 94 gigawatt hours and it had already increased to an impressive 2,842 gigawatt hours by 2021. In eleven years, solar power production has multiplied more than thirty-fold. What’s more, the total final consumption of electrical energy in 2021 was 58,113 gigawatt hours. Photovoltaics therefore accounted for 4.89 per cent of total consumption.

The fact that the photovoltaic market in Switzerland has been moving in only one direction for years – upwards – is also reflected in the development of the PV output sold per year. The development was still uniform until 2007, after which it climbed sharply. After approximately 50 per cent more output was sold in 2020 than in the previous year, another marked increase of 43 per cent was recorded in 2021. With more than 700 megawatts, 2021 saw the highest sales since the start of the survey in 1984. For the sake of comparison: 2020 saw the sale of 493 megawatts, and 2019 saw 332 megawatts. In 2022, a new record of more than 1000 megawatts of PV output was sold.

Let’s take a look into the more distant future: in 2050, photovoltaics is expected to supply 45 terawatt hours of electricity in Switzerland, i.e. that is 12 times more than today (1 terawatt hour = 1 billion kilowatt hours). The overall potential of photovoltaics is estimated to be even higher, at approximately 100 terawatt hours per year. PV systems could theoretically produce more electricity in the future than the entire amount we consume in Switzerland today.

Return quotas respond with a delay

It goes without saying that the ongoing photovoltaic boom will also have an intensified impact on the return quota in the future, i.e. on the amount of PV modules that must be disposed of and recycled. However, since PV modules have a long service life of 25 years on average, the solar industry will only be challenged with sharply rising return volumes after a delay.

PV modules installed around the turn of the millennium are now being recycled. At that time, photovoltaics was already undergoing its first small boom, but at a level 350 times lower than today. For the sake of comparison: In 2002, the newly sold PV output was only 2 megawatts.

While “only” about 200 tonnes of decommissioned or defective PV modules were recycled in 2020 and there are now already more than 1,100 tonnes, SENS eRecycling expects 17,000 tonnes to be recycled in 2030. According to current forecasts, this figure will increase to around half a million tonnes per year by 2050.

A two-fold challenge

The solar industry and Swiss politics will therefore have to meet two challenges in the next few years. Firstly, photovoltaics in Switzerland must continue to be promoted in a systematic manner with stable framework conditions and simplified procedures so that it can tap its full potential and make a key contribution to achieving climate targets.

On the other hand, the industry must continue to work on making the recycling of PV modules even more efficient and promoting the circular economy more consistently. This is the only effective way to ensure that we remain well equipped to deal with the sharply increasing quantities of returned modules in the future.