PURE Webinar: What Can One Person Do to Save the Planet?

pure webinarIf you’re reading this blog, you are probably concerned about the environment — every day we’re hearing more news about the state of the climate, and how the changes that have already started happening may accelerate and get more severe soon.

As serious as the effects of climate change are, the most important things to remember are that there is still hope and the time to act is now.

To show people how their individual choices can add up to a planet-saving effort, PURE Energies has teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to host a webinar on Tuesday, September 9. “Ideas From Outer Space: How you can affect climate change” is a one-hour conversation between Keya Chatterjee, the director of renewable energy and footprint outreach at WWF, and Chris Stern, a co-founder of PURE Energies.

Keya and Chris will be discussing some of the big challenges the world faces by looking at the small-scale steps anyone can (and should!) take to overcome those big challenges.

Among the challenges:

  • Stop coal
  • Cut all fossil fuels
  • Improve land use

Those are big challenges — and can be overwhelming to think about what it will take to overcome them.

Fortunately, there are small steps that, if everyone took even a few of them, would make it immediately possible to tackle all of these problems. And that’s exactly what’s on the agenda for our webinar.

Keya and Chris will discuss in detail some of these solutions:

• Cleaner transportation: Hybrids, electric vehicles, and a much greater reliance on public transit and bicycling are all important — and surprisingly easy ways — to reduce the footprint of your transportation needs.

• Improve your home’s energy efficiency: Starting by swapping out your energy-hogging devices — from lightbulbs to appliances — you can make a big dent in your monthly energy bill, as well as the energy needed to power your home.

• Embrace green energy: Solar power has plummeted in price by an unbelievable amount over the last 25 years. Compared to 1977, the cost of solar panels has fallen by 99 percent. But as of early 2014, solar is 60 percent cheaper than it was just three years ago. Cheaper solar plus smart financing that lets you go solar for free means that solar is a now a no-brainer.

• Join the community of people taking action on climate change. On September 21, the world is coming together in New York City for the People’s Climate March — which aims to peacefully stand up against global warming pollution and help to create a world full of clean air, good jobs and healthy communities. In every successful social movement, the single most important way to achieve change is when the people raise their voices. Even if you can’t join the march in New York City, spread the word and take action at home.

To learn more about all of these solutions, and how you can take the next step in the fight against climate change, sign up for the PURE webinar here.

Mike’s Ultimate Garage is PURE

Mike Holmes

In an effort to educate people across North America about the value of solar, PURE Energies partnered with Mike Holmes in 2013. The notion for our partnership began on the Rick Mercer Report, when Rick Mercer and Mike Holmes teamed up with PURE to install a solar array on an Oshawa home.

On September 1st, 2014, PURE Energies was featured on Mike’s Ultimate Garage special, which aired on HGTV Canada. Viewers got an all-access pass with Canada’s most trusted contractor, Mike Holmes, as he built his dream garage. This episode featured Mike Holmes’ PURE Energies solar installation, including 40 solar panels on the house which have a peak power production of about 10 kW. And the best part is that Mike  handed over the white helmet to his son, Mike Jr. who ran the jobsite.

At 1850 square feet, Mike’s state-of-the-art garage houses some of the coolest gadgetry and cutting-edge solar technologies on the market.

Mike Holmes is one of the few homeowners in the PURE community with a solar array installed on his roof and on his garage. His rooftop solar array generates clean energy for his community and the solar system on his garage generates power that is used to charge his battery bank which can be used to power his home.

Mike Holmes solar installation

 

PURE Sustainability – Take a #smallstep

smallstep copyEverybody knows that the real New Year starts in September. This year it is all about sustainability. What choices can we make to improve our practices as individual consumers to reduce our carbon footprint as members of a community?

At PURE Energies, we have worked with thousands of homeowners who have taken a step towards sustainability by choosing to go solar. Oftentimes, when one homeowner goes solar, many neighbors want to get in on the sunshine, and soon, an entire community has gone solar.

This school year, we want to inspire our community to think green and act sustainably!

While going solar has proven the benefits of thinking green – both for the planet and for the pocketbook – there are many other ways to be more sustainable. One #smallstep can entice an entire community to make the sustainable choice. Normally it takes one community member to take the first step towards a more sustainable lifestyle, like packing homemade lunches for their kids or carpooling, to motivate others to do the same.

To kick-off the New School Year we’re encouraging one #smallstep for sustainability. Think of one small way to be more sustainable and inspire your friends: carpool; walk to school; use reusable containers; pack organic lunches; buy used; use a solar backpack! Even if you don’t have school aged children, you can still make a #smallstep towards sustainability.

There are sustainable alternatives to most of the everyday choices we make as consumers which save the planet and save you money.

Enter your #smallstep for sustainability and be automatically entered into our contest to win 1 of 10 Voltaic solar backpacks stuffed with $500 cash!

After the first week of school we will randomly draw winners, so be sure to pledge your #smallstep before September 12th.

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Ask a Solar Expert: Energy Generated by Solar Panels, Best Roof for Solar

solar roofsEvery day, as we help people go solar and save money across North America, we get asked questions about the details of home solar. To help answer these common questions, today we’re kicking off a new series at PURE called “Ask a Solar Expert.” Our lead solar designer, George Shafer, is here to shine some light on the sometimes-confusing aspects of a solar installation.

Question: How much energy does an average solar panel produce?

Solar panels come in all shapes and sizes these days — from the size of a cell phone to standard-sized modules for residential, commercial, and industrial use.

Standard residential-use panels are measured in direct-current (DC) capacity. The average solar panel used these days is a 250-watt panel. We use a variety of different panel producers, and due to improvements in the manufacturing process the production standards are very high across the board.

Four of these panels are equal to 1 kilowatt (kW) of DC capacity. (250 watts x 4 = 1000W, or 1kW.)

In terms of energy production, it depends on your specific design factors. Your micro-climate, the latitude of your town, your roof’s orientation and slope, and most importantly your sun access (or how shaded your roof is), all determine how much energy your solar panels will produce.

The production of the system will vary throughout the year, with longer days in the summer producing the most power. The commonly accepted way to measure a panel’s productivity is to take a one-year snapshot of its production. An average system will produce between 1000 and 1500 kWh per year for each kW of solar.

So again, four 250-watt panels (1kW) = 1000-1500 kWh/year.

For one 250-watt panel, you can expect about 250-375 kWh/year.

Under extreme circumstances production goes outside of this range.

Question: What type of roof is best for solar?

Any open, sunny, southern-facing roof!

In reality we can install on a variety of roof types. The most common installations are on composition shingle, flat tile, concrete s-tile or round tile, standing seam metal, and rolled roofing. These are the most common roofing types, and are the best for home solar installations.

Less common, but still doable, installations occur on rubberized roofing, foam roofing, membrane roofing, corrugated metal roofing, clay tile, and ground mounts.

The only kind of roof we will not install on is wood shake roofing.

Question: Should I reroof before I go solar?

Let’s say you went solar today and then a few years later want to re-roof. It’s not that pricey to pop the panels off, re-roof, and then put them back on. And usually, the amount of money you’ll save on your energy bill over those few years more than outweighs the cost of removing the panels briefly to re-roof — so by all means go solar now!

If you were already planning to redo your roof this year or next, go ahead and coordinate with a roofer and do both at the same time — it’s a commonplace occurrence for solar installers to coordinate with roofers like this). If your roof has a few years’ or more worth of life in it, just pull the trigger on solar and worry about the roof when the time comes.

George ShaferGeorge Shafer, our Lead Solar Designer, has been working with PURE Energies for the last two years and enjoys working to change the way that people think about energy. In his free time you can find him in the waters around San Francisco, surfing, swimming, and freediving.

Solar roofs photo CC-licensed by Kevin Baird on Flickr.

Infographic: The Top Solar Countries in the World — and How they Got There

As a companion piece to Garrett Hering’s exploration of the countries that are leading the solar revolution, we created three interactive graphics to help explain not just which countries can boast the most solar capacity, but also to show how they achieved their successes.

Through three graphics, we explore the solar boom. First, let’s look at the overall rise of solar around the world. By clicking and dragging the slider below, you can see how solar has grown between 2004 and 2014 (although the 2014 data are an estimate projected at the end of 2013):

Next, let’s look at the per-capital solar capacity of 10 of the world’s solar leaders:

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this graphic shows the policy tools that each of the 15 top solar countries have used to grow their solar capacity. Click on the down-arrow next to the country name to see the full list of countries and their policy practices; you can also click on the legend at the bottom of the graphic to highlight all the countries that use net metering, feed-in tariffs, carbon taxes, and others to encourage solar growth.

How the World’s Top Solar Countries Grew Their Markets

top solar countriesSolar electricity should reach 1 percent of global electricity demand for the first time ever in 2014, forecasts a new report by the International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power System Programme (IEA PVPS).

This major milestone — though it sounds like a small percentage, it is a big deal for the solar industry — coincides with major changes in solar markets worldwide. Notable among them are a clear shift in demand from West to East in response to reduced government support across Europe and increased incentives in Asia, growing threats to distributed solar power on homes and commercial rooftops in the U.S. and solar electricity prices at or below parity with retail and wholesale grid prices in a number of markets.

The report, which includes preliminary data culled by experts and market participants in IEA and non-IEA countries, estimates that approximately 136 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic generating capacity was installed around the world entering 2014 — with the capability of generating an estimated 160 terawatt-hours of electricity — or about 0.85 percent of global electricity demand, according to IEA.

How did we get here? Countries have applied a number of policy and market-based strategies to encourage solar growth over the past decade, including tax credits, rebates and climate change levy exemptions — but far and away the most common are net metering and feed-in tariffs, two incentives that pay system owners for solar electricity sent to the grid.

To accompany the flood of data provided by the PVPS report and other sources, we’ve created an infographic that lists the world’s top solar countries, and also shows which tools they’ve used to reach these heights.

Praise for the 1-plus Percent Club

Although the global solar market is about to hit the record 1 percent mark this year, more than a dozen countries have surpassed that threshold already, according to IEA. A trio of nations – Italy, Germany and Greece – each rely on PV to supply more than 5 percent of their electricity today. Italy leads the way at an estimated 7.8 percent, followed by Germany at 6.2 percent and Greece at 5.8 percent. Bulgaria, Belgium, Czech Republic and Spain are between 3 and 4 percent.

In Europe as a whole, where premium payments for solar electricity fed into the grid (feed-in tariffs) have fueled a boom in PV rooftops and power plants over the past decade, approximately 3 percent of total electricity now comes from photovoltaic systems. At peak demand, Europe’s PV systems even cover up to 6 percent of the continent’s electricity consumption.

The only members of the 1-percent club outside of Europe are Australia, Israel and Japan, whose primarily residential and commercial rooftop markets have been supported by a combination of performance-based feed-in tariffs and net metering payments, and rebates.

Solar Eclipse in Europe

In terms of total installed capacity, Germany still leads by a wide margin with 35.5 GW of PV on the grid at the end of 2013 (see graphic below). Based on installed capacity per capita, Germany also remains way out front with 433.5 watts per person.

Interactive graphic: Top 15 Countries’ Total Installed PV Capacity

But after three consecutive years of adding around 7.5 GW, Germany’s PV market tumbled in 2013 to just 3.3 GW.

“This happened in a context of reduced feed-in tariffs, more constraining regulations for utility-scale PV and the political will to reduce the cost of renewables for electricity consumers,” noted the IEA PVPS report.

IHS predicts that the German market could fall again this year, installing less than 3 GW.

More intense has been the decline of the Italian PV market. After leading the world with 9.3 GW installed in 2011, Italy’s annually installed PV generating capacity dropped to 3.6 GW in 2012 and just 1.5 GW in 2013.

“A financial cap has now been set by the Italian authorities to limit the cost borne by electricity consumers,” explained the IEA PVPS report, adding, “Feed-in tariffs are not granted anymore for new PV installations but a self-consumption scheme and additional tax rebates are now in place.”

Due to its past primacy, however, Italy still is the world’s third-largest producer of PV power, with a total of 17.6 GW online entering this year. On a per-capita basis, Italy ranks No. 2 globally with 288.9 watts per person.

Interactive graphic: Top 10 Countries’ PV Capacity per Person

Italy’s annual PV demand could fall to under 1 GW this year.

Despite a rise in installations in emerging European solar markets like the U.K., Greece and Romania – each of which installed more than 1 GW last year – Europe as a whole declined in 2013 to just over 10 GW. That compares to 17.6 GW of PV installed in 2012 and 22.4 GW in 2011, according to IEA data.

This year, IHS anticipates another year of decline in Europe to just 9.7 GW.

Interactive Graphic: Global Installed PV Capacity, 2004 – 2014

Solar rising in the East

Meanwhile, China is on pace to continue its ambitious ascent. For the first time in 2013, China not only installed more solar power than Germany; the People’s Republic outshined all of Europe by installing 11.3 GW of PV – more than triple the year before – thanks to a potent combination of direct capital investments and feed-in tariffs.

That made China the largest PV market in the world in 2013. Based on a cumulative installed capacity of 18.3 GW, however, China still trails Germany overall.

IHS predicts that China will add another 13 GW this year, including 8 GW at ground-mounted power plants and nearly 5 GW on rooftops.

In a bit of a Fukushima effect, Japan was the No. 2 market for PV in 2013 with nearly 7 GW installed, according to the IEA PVPS report. That was up from just 1.7 GW of PV installed in 2012 and is the result of a new feed-in tariff program launched in mid-2012 in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that — at least temporarily — completely eliminated nuclear power in Japan.

With 13.6 GW of PV on the grid to start 2014 — mostly residential and commercial rooftop systems — Japan currently ranks fourth in the world.

Ash Sharma, senior director of solar research at IHS, expects Japan’s residential market to decline this year.

“Although the reduction in Japan’s feed-in-tariff conformed precisely to IHS expectations, other factors will cause the residential market to decline. These factors include the increase in sales tax on domestic PV systems, the expiration of the additional up-front subsidy and the slowdown in new housing construction,” according to Sharma.

The analyst, however, expects Japan’s commercial and power plant installations to fuel 45 percent growth in 2014 to around 9 GW.

Solar in the New World

The United States, the largest solar market in the Americas, installed 4.75 GW of PV in 2013 compared to 3.37 GW in 2012 — with much of the growth coming from ground-mounted power plants that qualify for a 30 percent investment tax credit.

Combined with lower technology costs, this tax credit has helped to push prices for utility-scale PV into the range of just 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. Such prices match or beat new sources of fossil fuel generation in many regions of the country and have garnered considerable attention from utilities.

Homeowners and business owners are also taking advantage of lower PV prices in the U.S., leveraging both tax credits and net metering. However, the latter policy has come under attack by utilities in key states such as Arizona, California and Colorado. The residential market in the U.S. nevertheless grew about 60 percent last year, adding nearly 800 megawatts (MW).

With a total of about 12 GW installed at the end of last year, the U.S. ranks at No. 5 in the world in terms of cumulative PV capacity, according to IEA. IHS sees the U.S. market as a whole adding another 6.4 GW this year.

Canada, the second largest PV market in the Americas, which is driven primarily by feed-in tariffs in the province of Ontario, added about 444 MW last year — pushing Canada past 1 GW of total installed PV generating capacity.

Latin American countries, on the other hand, “haven’t developed into a significant market yet,” according to the IEA PVPS report,” even though there has been an increase in development activities.

Despite this year’s 1 percent solar milestone, “PV hasn’t yet reached a widespread development,” finds the report. “On the contrary, the development of PV remains driven by a handful of countries,” it added.

IEA’s statistics show that Germany, China, Italy, Japan and the U.S. accounted for more than 70 percent of the world’s total installed PV generating capacity entering 2014.

In other words, a whole world of solar opportunity is still out there.

Top photo, of the Mityaevo Solar Park in Crimea, CC-licensed by ActivSolar on Flickr.

My Experience At The Clinton Global Initiative (2014)

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Several months ago, I was approached by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) about attending the 2014 conference. Kim – the person that invited me – actually did her internship at our company during its infancy, 5 years ago.

The CGI is about bringing diverse groups of people in Government, NGO’s and businesses to discuss several topics within Working Groups. The ultimate goal of each Working Group is to come up with various Commitments to Action that tackle an array of different problems that are challenging humankind today. As Bill Clinton figuratively said, “the World economy has come off the tracks. My goal is to bring together people to come up with collective and inclusive capitalism that gets the train back on the tracks and moving along into the future.”

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Clinton Global Initiative 2014

During the first evening I lucked out and got a chance to meet the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. I offered to put solar on his house in New York! Stay tuned for details.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of The Modern Grid working group. Interestingly enough most of the subject matter in our working group was around solar power and the future of utilities in the United States. It is by no surprise that solar power accounted for 74 % of new generating capacity in Q1 2014.

The issue of who will pay for the future grid became a recurring theme. Some wires are over 120 years old! As more and more homeowners, businesses, and Independent Power Producers choose to feed the grid with solar without effectively paying for the grid under the current business model of the utility; there will be more stranded assets.

One thing is clear, as indicated in the 1st quarter of this year and by the amount of new solar being added, it is here to stay. Solar is brighter than ever and it will be a big part of the Modern Grid.

Infographic: The Solar World Cup 2014

solar world cup

solar world cupThe 2014 World Cup has earned a reputation as the most solar-friendly World Cup yet, with host country Brazil going big on solar to power the stadiums where country squads compete to bring the Cup back home.

Because solar power is our passion, we are of course wondering how the competitors’ home countries stack up on their own solar commitments. Have they started a local solar boom already, through encouraging home solar and large-scale solar farms? Do they have plans in place to kickstart or continue the growth of solar within their borders? How far have they come already?

Our research on the state of solar among all the World Cup contenders shows the wide differences in solar commitments around the world. From well-established powerhouses like Germany and Japan to promising up-and-comers like Algeria and Chile, solar is taking root in every World Cup group. Other contenders are falling behind, either because they haven’t yet taken advantage of their solar potential or are scaling back support for solar installations.

The infographic below briefly explains how the contenders are doing in our own Solar World Cup. Here is how we came up with our ratings — which are of course somewhat subjective, and often based on fairly minimal information about solar in some of these countries:

  • 1-3: Minimal solar capacity, few or no commitments for action
  • 4-6: Established solar industry and capacity, some commitments for action
  • 7-10: Strong solar industry and capacity, supported by smart policy and long-term commitments for action

Solar World Cup Infographic

Africa

Algeria
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Between 2011 and 2012, Algeria’s solar capacity grew by more than 350 percent. Although the capacity is still small — 32 megawatts (MW) as of 2012 — analysts predict the country’s favorable policy and business climate will allow Algeria to reach 2,111 MW of capacity by 2017.

Cameroon
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: Although Cameroon’s solar market is tiny, with just 50 photovoltaic (PV) installations as of 2009, the potential is big, with high solar potential and PV systems already in use to power telecommunications networks.

Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: Côte d’Ivoire is already largely powered by renewables — a study from IRENA put the country at 76 percent renewables as of 2009 — but it’s largely biomass. However, the nation’s government is working on a new energy code and is testing solar PV systems to power rural areas. Chinese solar manufacturer Hanergy also announced in early 2014 that it was considering a US$500 million investment to build a thin-film manufacturing plant in Côte d’Ivoire.

Ghana
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Sun-drenched Ghana has a small solar market, but the government is pushing to electrify the rural regions of the country, including off-grid energy sources like solar. The northern parts of Ghana, where access to electricity is lowest, also gets the most sun, making it a natural match for solar power.

Nigeria
Our rating: 4.5 / 10
Why: Like other West African nations, Nigeria has high solar potential — but also low current installations. The Nigerian government has set a target of 500 MW of solar by 2025, and has created a policy of feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.

 

Middle East and Asia / Pacific

Australia
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Solar power down under has seen a rapid rise — from less than 0.1 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2008 to 3.1 GW in 2013 — and strong adoption from residents across the country. More than 1 million rooftop solar systems have been installed to date, and there are a number of massive utility-scale solar farms across the country. However, a conservative federal government that took office in September 2013 has scaled back solar commitments, including a much-anticipated “million solar rooftops” campaign.

Iran
Our rating: 3.5 / 10
Why: Despite the fact that Iran’s solar potential is “nearly limitless,” there has been very little adoption of solar power, in part because of the nation’s oil wealth, as well as the relatively high cost of solar panels and installation in the country.

Japan
Our rating: 8.5 / 10
Why: The island nation is one of the world’s leading solar manufacturers, and ranks among the top five nations for most solar installed, with 13.5 GW installed as of 2013. The nation boasts strong feed-in tariffs and other incentives, and since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, solar adoption has skyrocketed as the country works to reduce its reliance on nuclear power. The number of installations per year grew from just over 1,700 in 2012 to almost 7,000 in 2013.

South Korea
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: South Korea is another technological powerhouse, with a number of leading solar manufacturers based in the country. But the government has focused more on building its economy, and becoming a solar technology exporter, than on putting solar on every roof. In 2012, South Korea switched from a feed-in tariff to a renewable portfolio standard, which sets a goal of 10 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2022.

 

Europe

Belgium
Our rating: 7 / 10
Why: This small nation has a huge solar footprint: As of 2011, its 803 megawatts of solar capacity was equal to 2 percent of the world’s installed solar. The market has grown since then, with the Flemish region in the north of Belgium quadrupling the number of solar installations in 2009 — from 16,000 the year before to 65,000 in 2009.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: While there is plenty of solar potential in this eastern European country, the primary renewable sources of fuel are hydropower and biomass, and solar remains too expensive for widespread use.

Croatia
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Similar to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia has a high solar potential but low adoption — just three grid-connected solar systems, with the rest off-grid — and the country relies on hydropower and biomass for its renewable energy needs.

England
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Despite its reputation as a gloomy, wet and cold nation, solar power has taken off in England. Between the end of 2011 and February 2012, the country had increased its solar capacity by 30 percent, from 750 MW to 1,000 MW. Add to that the government’s recent addition of a feed-in tariff for solar and a goal to get solar installed on 4 million homes by 2020, and you’ve got a recipe for a solar boom.

France
Our rating: 6.5 / 10
Why: With more land and more people than Belgium to the northeast, France has an only slightly bigger solar market, and the pace is slowing. Installations in 2013, while still impressive at 613 MW of new capacity, are 45 percent lower than in 2012, and just over one-third of the 1,700 MW installed in 2011.

Germany
Our rating: 10 / 10
Why: The poster child for “solar done right,” Germany made a dedicated effort to build a domestic solar industry, with great success. Germans measure their annual increases solar capacity in gigawatts, not megawatts, and the 3.3 GW installed in 2013 put the nation at nearly 36 GW of total capacity — far and away the world’s leader in solar power.

Italy
Our rating: 7 / 10
Why: An ambitious feed-in tariff grew Italy’s solar market rapidly between 2009, when it had 1.1 GW of capacity, and 2013, when it reached 17.9 GW of capacity. But the country recently ended its feed-in tariff once it reached its cap of US$8.8 billion invested, raising questions about future growth of Italy’s solar industry.

Netherlands
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: The Netherlands have tried several methods to grow its solar capacity, starting with a feed-in tariff implemented in 2008, which didn’t take off as hoped. After the subsidy was scrapped and the country shifted to bulk purchasing, advance purchase orders from Dutch citizens allowed the country to buy solar panels in bulk for a 35 percent discount. And a solar rebate fund that offers 15 percent back on solar purchases has led to 90,000 applications and 315 MW of solar installations as of August 2013.

Portugal
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: One of Europe’s sunniest countries, Portugal is also one of the most renewable-friendly nations: In early 2013, the country generated 70 percent of its power from renewables — but almost none of it came from solar. Despite a few large-scale solar farms, just 0.7 percent of Portugal’s energy comes from the sun.

Russia
Our rating: 3.5 / 10
Why: Despite being the largest country in the world, Russia has almost no solar power — just 5 MW as of 2012, with potential plans for expanding that by another 70 MW with a new solar farm.

Spain
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: While Spain was once a global solar leader, the country’s solar industry has been greatly hurt by the 2008 financial collapse, as the government cut solar subsidies to rein in spending and avoid further economic damage. Nonetheless, Spain has significant solar capacity in both utility-scale solar farms and residential systems, with 5.3 GW of solar capacity as of 2013.

Switzerland
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: While the mountain nation has the solar and financial resources to be a solar leader, the country is only making slow progress on going solar. Despite a national feed-in tariff, the government cut the funding allotted to the program, and is considering further cuts, leaving solar growth slow.

 

North America, Central America & Caribbean

Costa Rica:
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: With a prime equatorial location, Costa Rica receives enough sunlight to generate 2,600 times the amount of electricity it currently uses. But solar is just a blip on the country’s radar, although changes to the National Energy Plan that reduce import fees for solar hardware and provide solar incentives may pick up the pace.

Mexico:
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: Mexico is already the solar leader in Latin America, and has huge potential to be a global leader. The country has a strong solar manufacturing base and incredible sunlight, but as of 2012 had only 38 MW of solar generation capacity.

USA
Our rating: 8 / 10
Why: We’re not entirely biased by home-field advantage here; solar power in the U.S. has boomed over the last five years, driven equally by decreasing solar hardware prices, innovative solar financing programs, and government incentives and research. At the end of 2013, the U.S. boasted 13 GW of solar capacity, and added 4.7 GW in 2013 alone, the fastest growth the country has seen yet. That said, not everything is rosy in the States: There’s a strong and active political and industrial movement that is trying to kill solar power by levying fees and eliminating incentives for solar homeowners.

 

South America

Argentina
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Argentina, which is still recovering from a long economic downturn, has been extremely slow to adopt solar power, with the first of seven planned solar farms opening in 2011, which will give the country a total of 20 MW of solar capacity.

Brazil
Our rating: 5 / 10
Why: The World Cup hosts have made a big effort to go solar in advance of the Cup, as well as its hosting of the Olympic Games in 2016. Several of the nation’s new football stadiums boast huge solar arrays, but there’s very little solar beyond the pitch. The state of Minas Gerais has recently launched a renewable energy program to encourage manufacturing and installing solar, but has little solar installed today. The government has set a target of 1,400 MW of solar capacity by 2022, which will likely spur investment and installations.

Chile
Our rating: 5 / 10
Why: Though Chile boasts extremely high solar potential, it is only just getting started with solar. The country opened its first solar farm in 2012, and has approved at least 3,100 MW of large-scale solar in the high Atacama desert region as of the end of 2013.

Colombia
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: Like its neighbors throughout Central and South America, Colombia has great potential for solar power, but little to no solar generating capacity to speak of.

Ecuador
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: With just 0.08 MW of solar capacity as of 2011, Ecuador is only just getting started with its solar growth. The government has launched a series of initiatives to electrify rural areas with solar power.

Uruguay
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Just as with neighboring World Cup contenders Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay has strong solar potential but few solar installations. However, the government has passed statutes that require solar water heating for some public buildings and in 2008 launched Mesa Solar to promote solar energy across the country.

Solar panel photo at top CC-licensed by Lars Hammar on Flickr.

Testimonial-Esther Poulsen’s Story

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“This has been an easy process.” Read Esther Poulsen’s solar story.

Esther Poulsen signed up for in February 2010 and within three months was the proud owner of two different solar installations. We recently caught up with Esther to hear about her experience going solar, and here’s what she had to say:


“My husband and I started looking into solar in 2008. We had moved into our house back in 2007, and went through our first winter having monster electric bills that topped out at $800 a month! However, a couple of different factors prevented us from going solar back then: the energy rebates were good but not stellar. We also had a couple of big trees on our property that made shading an issue.

During the winter of 2009, a huge storm knocked down one of those trees, so Mother Nature helped eliminate one hurdle. And with energy prices rising each year, we decided to take another look.

I’m an analyst, so going into the process I had a complex spreadsheet with all the particulars listed out, from electric rates dating back 20 years to the various quotes I’d received from five different solar installers. It was amazing to me how the program was significantly lower than the going rate. In fact, I told one of the installers I’d already seen about the cost difference, and even he was intrigued!

Going solar is complex, but this has been an easy process. Our installer, Trinity Solar, was incredibly helpful, easy to deal with, and very professional. And has been great from the beginning.

We have one more piece, the internet monitoring system, getting installed this week. I’m excited to get new monitors on, and excited to know how much energy I’m saving daily. Our goal is to eventually generate enough energy in the coming months to compensate for snowy winters such as the one we just had, when our roof was snow-covered for a good chunk of time.

As for my home solar installation, I couldn’t be happier. Our first full bill [after going solar] was a total of $6.88! That was in July 2010, and I’d guess our summer electric bills before then had been somewhere in the neighborhood of $250+.

We use more electricity in the winter of course, but even in the snowier months we’ve seen substantial savings. Looking at the amount of kilowatts our system has been generating, there’s been a one third reduction in our energy costs since last year. That’s huge!

Most people might not think about it this way, but I see going solar as a great way of hedging against inflation. There’s uncertainty about nuclear power, electrical and coal prices…this is a way of protecting against that.Esther P installation

In terms of peoples’ reactions to our solar installation, it’s been an interesting ongoing dialogue. We live in a part of New Jersey that is heavily wooded, so it’s not necessarily the easiest place to go solar. But we live on a cove, so our backyard and roof is visible to just about everyone. When I’m out back, people will paddle up in their kayaks and canoes and ask me about our solar system!

One of the funnier stories has to do with my neighbor. Shortly after our panels were installed, he came up to me and said “…you fell for the solar panel scam!” Well I had to dispel that notion right then and there, so I went up and grabbed my most recent electricity bill (which was just over $2.00), showed it to him, and said “this is not a scam!” Once he took a look at it, he started to ask questions about how much the system cost and how much money I was saving .

I’m always happy to talk about how great the experience of going solar has been for me and am constantly updating my Facebook page with how much money and energy I’m saving. I would absolutely recommend going solar through . I tell people about your program whenever the opportunity arises and will continue to do so!”