* Global solar capacity to rise by 5.5 GW in 2009
* Big projects face funding problems
By Svetlana Kovalyova
VERONA, Italy, May 6 Global capacity of photovoltaic (PV) which turns sunlight into electricity is expected to rise by 5.5 gigawatt (GW) in 2009 with growth pace slowed by recession, a senior industry expert said on Wednesday.
The global PV market added 5.5 GW of new capacity last year bringing total installed capacity to about 15 GW at the end of 2008, said the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) which represents about 95 percent of Europe's PV industry.
"We could envisage another 5.5 GW of new installations in 2009," EPIA President Winfried Hoffmann told Reuters on the sidelines of a PV conference in northern Italy.
That would mean a decline in growth pace to just under 40 percent this year from 60 percent in 2008.
Industrial size PV projects which need considerable bank financing have been experiencing difficulties with access to credits, Hoffmann said.
"We all know that it is not easy to get a 100 million from a bank nowadays," he said.
Banks have practically stopped underwriting big project financing and instead pull together "club deals" which means tougher conditions for a borrower who has to negotiate with several lenders, said Paolo Bozzolo, a project finance officer at Italian bank Unicredit (CRDI.MI) Mediocredito Centrale.
"The new situation is not as friendly for investors (as before the credit crunch). The name of the game for a photovoltaic developer is not to accept the best deal but to get a loan, to get liquidity," Bozzolo told the conference.
Anton Milner, chief executive of the world's biggest maker of solar cells, Q-Cells QCEG.DE, said his group's new joint venture with wafer maker LDK Solar LDK.N has suffered delays with bank financing for projects whose sites have been chosen.
Solar cells oversupply remained a concern for manufacturers but could be partially absorbed by an expected robust growth of PV markets in the United States and China after new government initiatives in those countries to boost green energy, conference participants said.
Hoffmann said he expected strong growth in Japan and South Korea and estimated the global annual growth in 2010 in a range from 6 GW to 8 GW and up to 10 GW in the best case scenario.
Turning to European countries where government support schemes were in place, like in Germany and Italy, Hoffmann said incentives lured household and other small investors who flocked to the PV market despite the crisis.
"Can you tell me of another way to invest your money and get a 20-year, state-guaranteed return on investment?" he said.