Once an after-thought in solar development, the latest data shows the Asia-Pacific region is becoming the industry's biggest market for photovoltaic solar power.

According the research performed by Solarbuzz, and presented in its Asia Pacific Major PV Markets report, Asia's PV market is forecast to increase 39% in the final quarter of 2011.  Looking at the numbers annually, between Q4 2010 and Q4 2011, the region's market will have grown 130%. 

Probably the most staggering number offered by the report is that China will account for 45% of the regional demand in Q4 2011.  China's demand is only going to increase in the years to come as the National Energy Administration recently changed its solar installation target for 2015 from 10-gigawatts to 15-gigawatts.  With its growing demand, China is set to surpass the United States in yet another cleantech category--solar market size.

China is not the only large Asian country with ambitious clean energy targets.  India's national incentives program is also helping to drive the increased demand for the Asia-Pacific region.  Representing two of the world's largest and growing economies, the demand in both countries is being fueled by utility-scale projects. 

According to Solarbuzz, non-residential ground mounted systems are projected to represent 64% of the region's market by the end of 2012.  Conversely, at the beginning of this year, this sector represented only 16% of the market.

Christopher Sunsong, a Solarbuzz analyst, says the Asian markets are filling a gap for solar companies:  "As the European markets no longer present certain growth, the Asia Pacific markets are increasingly the focus of international companies looking to expand."  Sunsong also cautioned that there are significant hurdles facing these companies, but the potential of this emerging market is too large to deter major players.

The growth of the market is being buyoed by a sharp decline in cost of solar panels.  In the manufacturing realm China is continuing to swallow up large swaths of the global market.  This dip in solar prices has led to consolidation of market through the elimination of companies such as Solyndra and Stirling Energy.  It has also led to a trade battle between the United States and China.  The U.S. claims its companies, such as Solyndra and Stirling, have been forced out of the market as a result of illegal subsidies offered by the Chinese government to its solar manufacturers.

Key officials within the U.S. government, such as Secretary of Energy Steven Chu recognize the importance of emerging cleantech markets like the solar industry.  Chu has been lobbying hard for the government to create incentives for U.S. companies to be capable of capturing the growing demand for these technologies not only at home, but also in regions like Asia-Pacific.

Speaking at a solar manufacturing plant in Colorado last week, Secretary Chu said, "America has a choic to make today:  Are we going to be importers or exporters of solar technologies?  We can accept defeat and watch the solar jobs go to China, Germany and other countries, or we can get in the game and play to win."