By Nina Chestney
LONDON (Reuters) - New global solar capacity will continue to grow this year, after lower costs drove it to record levels in 2016, and could surpass 80 gigawatts (GW), Europe's solar industry forecast on Tuesday.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) module prices have fallen 80 percent since 2009 as capacity has risen and technologies improved.
And a record 76.6 GW of new solar capacity was installed and connected to the grid last year, 50 percent up on 2015, solar power association SolarPower Europe said in a report.
"There is a good chance that the market could even pass the 80 GW mark in 2017," James Watson, chief executive of SolarPower Europe, said in the report, which concluded that global capacity growth this year will mostly depend on China.
China connected 34.5 GW of solar to the grid last year, representing nearly half of the world's new capacity and 128 percent more than in 2015.
Although many experts say Chinese solar installations could slow this year, China has already commissioned 7.2 GW in the first quarter, slightly higher than what was installed in the first quarter of last year, the report said.
"With further support mechanisms available....there is quite some upside potential in the world's largest market this year
beyond the 29 GW anticipated in our medium scenario," it added.
Installed solar photovoltaic capacity increased by a third to 306.5 GW by the end of last year, up from 229.9 GW in 2015.
That could increase to 400 GW in 2018, 500 GW in 2019, 600 GW in 2020 and 700 GW in 2021, the report said.
(Editing by Alexander Smith)