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O Sole Mio: Italy tops Germany as world solar leader

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Finally, a SUNNY country is numero uno in global ranking of photovoltaic installations, as the Mediterranean land knocks the more northerly one into second place. Where does the U.S. stand?

Finally, a sunny country is numero uno in the global rankings of photovoltaic installations, as Italy this year will knock Germany into second place.

According to research firm IHS iSuppli, the Mediterranean nation's new installations of PV electricity in 2011 will reach 6.9 gigawatts (GW) by the time the year ends. That's the equivalent of about 6 nuclear power stations.

Italy will edge out Germany, which will install 5.9 GW, down from 7.4 GW last year. Although not known as a sunny country, Germany has long held a leading place among PV countries because of government policies. It was an early adopter of feed-in-tariffs (FiTs).

Policy also helps explain why Italian installations nearly will nearly double from 3.6 GW last year to this year's 6.9 GW.

"The Italian government’s attractive incentives boosted the country’s installations massively, giving it the top position worldwide," said Henning Wicht, IHS iSuppli's director and principal analyst for photovoltaics. An IHS press release attributed the increase to "attractive tariffs and changing subsidy schemes from the government in Rome." The European Photovoltaic Industry has estimated that the value of electricity from business-scale PV installations in Italy will fall to equal the cost of buying it from the grid as early as 2013.

According to IHS, German buyers held off in the first half of the year as they anticipated - correctly as it turns out - that prices would drop precipitously.  Earlier this year, IHS also noted a second-half German rush to buy PV products before a planned reduction in FiT support in 2012.

Rounding out the leaders, the U.S. earned third place, with 2.7 GW, followed by China's 1.7 GW,  Japan's 1.3 GW and France's approximately 1.0 GW. Global installations will reach 23.8 GW, an impressive 34 percent gain from 17.7 GW in 2010.

The IHS listings differed from another recent ranking by One Block Off The Grid in which Germany remained on top and Italy was fourth, behind Spain and Japan.

Photo: Enne via Wikimedia

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure