Top 10 Countries Using Solar PowerBy Matthew Wheeland - September 15, 2014
Back in 2010, we researched the countries that were leading the world in solar power installations. As of the end of 2009 — the latest data we could gather — the solar industry was in the very early stages of the global solar boom that has been accelerating ever since. In the interest of taking the current pulse of the global solar leaders, we’ve updated this post in September 2014 to reflect the new state of play. We’re keep the 2009 numbers in parentheses as a reference point of just how quickly the world is switching to affordable, clean solar energy.
One telling point: The solar industry is growing so rapidly that we’ve had to update our units of measurement from megawatts (MW) to gigawatts (GW).
Below are the top 10 countries using solar power in the world according to installed photovoltaic solar (PV) energy capacity. Think you know the order? You might be surprised…see if you can name all ten countries in the right order before continuing on.
1. Germany: 35.5 GW
(2010: 9.8 GW — 1st place)
In 2010, Germany was clearly the world leader, and has only continued the trend. In 2009 alone, Germany installed 3.8 GW of PV solar energy capacity, and the country has added at least 3.3 GW of new solar capacity per year, and more like 6 GW per year between 2010 and 2012. “The combination of a proven feed-in-tariff (FiT) scheme, good financing opportunities, a large availability of skilled PV companies, and a good public awareness of the PV technology, largely contributed to this success,” European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) reported.
Despite a slowdown in 2013, Germany is expected to remain the top solar market in Europe for the coming years, and still boasts a quarter of the world’s installed PV capacity 26 percent, compared to the 13 percent held by each of the next two countries on the list, Italy and China.
2. China: 18.3 GW
(2010: .305 GW — 8th Place)
Everything that China does, it does big. As the world’s most populous nation, and the one with the biggest carbon footprint, it’s great news that China has made such a major commitment to solar power. Since our 2009 research, China has grown its solar capacity by an astounding 6,000 percent — from less than one-third of a gigawatt of capacity to 18.3 GW. It helps that China is a major solar panel manufacturer, and the government has had to repeatedly raise its renewable energy targets — from a plan of 20 GW by 2020 to 20-30 GW by 2020 to the current target of an astounding 70 GW of solar by 2017. Coupled with a commitment to cut its coal use, the world’s biggest carbon polluter could soon also be the country powered with the most green energy.
3. Italy: 17.6 GW
(2010: 1.2 GW — 5th Place)
Not only has Italy continued its leadership in solar — rising from fifth place in 2010 to third place as of the end of 2013 — it generates more of its energy from solar than any other nation, with 7.8 percent of its energy coming from solar, compared to 6.2 percent for Germany. Mixing net-metering and a well-segmented FiT (combined with a lot of sunshine), Italy has become a world leader in solar energy. “The future growth of the market will depend on the streamlining and harmonisation of administrative procedures, combined with an adapted decrease of the FIT in the third Conto Energia to cope with the expected price decrease,” the EPIA reports.
4. Japan: 13.6 GW
(2010: 2.6 GW — 3rd Place)
Japan fell from third place in 2010 to fourth place in 2014, but remains also a country worth emulating — in the past four years the country has grown its solar capacity by more than 500 percent. Government residential PV programs, net-metering, high national solar energy goals to reach 28 GW by 2020 and 53 GW by 2030, as well as the support of local authorities and the private sector make Japan a world leader in this field. In the wake of the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the country has renewed its dedication to solar power, particularly with the recent announcement of the first of many floating solar farms off the island nation’s coasts.
5. United States: 12 GW
(2010: 1.6 GW — 4th Place)
It’s hard to believe that a country that grew its solar capacity by 750 percent in four years could still have lost standing in the global solar boom, but that just goes to show how quickly the field is changing. The United States have benefited as much as anyone from the steadily dropping price of solar, aided by smart financing and some supportive state-level policies to grow its domestic solar industry. With many large ground-mounted solar projects in the pipeline, installed capacity in the US is expected to grow significantly in coming years. Additionally, national legislation promoting solar energy (if it comes through) could move the US forward considerably. The cap on the federal solar tax credit was lifted in 2009, promoting growth in this industry.
6. Spain: 5.6 GW
(2010: 3.4 GW — 2nd Place)
Spain was the world leader in newly installed PV solar energy (2,605 MW) in 2008 due to the government’s focus on creating a national solar energy industry, but has since dropped significantly — between 2010 and 2013, the country didn’t even double its capacity, whereas Germany nearly quadrupled its solar capacity. The reasons for this drop are attributed to complexity and delays related to a new government subsidy program and a decrease in energy demand due to the economic crisis. With expectations that both of these will improve in 2010, and considering its excellent sun irradiation and PV potential, Spain is expected to bump up its solar energy capacity again this year.
7. France: 4.6 GW
(2010: .272 GW — 9th Place)
France has continued to benefit from its well-designed FiT for building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), but the country’s solar growth has been slowed by a lack of political support for solar incentives, which the the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) in a report published earlier in 2014 (PDF)also attributed to attacks from the nuclear and fossil fuel energy industries.
8. Australia: 3.3 GW
(2010: .125 GW [Source])
The first of two newcomers to our list of the top 10 countries using solar power, Australia has in the past five years made the most of its sun-drenched status — though its continued growth is in question. At the end of 2009, the island nation claimed only 125 MW of solar capacity, but through smart policies including feed-in tariffs, rebates and a federal mandatory renewable energy target has grown that by 2600 percent, reaching 3.3 gigawatts by the end of 2013. Between steadily dropping solar prices and the fact that Australia boasts some of the greatest solar potential in the world, solar power costs less than half what grid electricity costs, although the current government is considering scaling back the federal Renewable Energy Target, which would slow if not stop the country’s upward trajectory in these lists.
9. Belgium: 3GW
(2010: .363 GW — 7th Place)
The image above shows Belgian solar flowers. Belgium has been a surprising solar contender even since 2009. Belgium’s success was from “a well-designed Green Certificates scheme (which actually works as a Feed-in Tariff), combined with additional tax rebates and electricity self-consumption.” Those policies, coupled with the steady drop in solar panel prices, has kept Belgium growing its solar market year-over-year since 2009.
Image © Artist Alexandre Dang, www.alexandredang.com
10. United Kingdom: 2.9 GW
(2010: .027 GW [Source])
Another poster child for the global solar boom, the United Kingdom was nearly a no-show in our 2009 research — it didn’t make the top 10 list by a long shot, with just 27 MW of solar capacity. But it has made quick growth since then, with the EPIA noting that in 2013, the U.K. nearly doubled its solar capacity, installing more even than Italy, the current 5th-place holder.
Off the List:
Two of the countries that made the top 10 list in 2010 have fallen behind in the rankings — we’re including them below in the hopes that they make it back on our list in the next go-round…
12. India: 2.3 GW
(2010: .120 GW — 10th Place)
Similar to China, India has fast-increasing electricity demand and it has very high sun irradiation levels. It’s government has also been moving forward strongly on clean energy. It has a goal to reach 20 GW by 2020 as well. “Besides the National Solar Mission of 2009, the market expects much of the possible decision this year to define a longterm power purchase agreement that could definitively trigger PV deployment in India,” EPIA states. India could quickly rise higher on this list with proper government strategies.
13. Czech Republic
(2010: 0.47 GW — 6th Place)
A generous FiT and simple administrative procedures have put the Czech Republic on this list. Per capita, it installed more new solar power than any other country besides Germany in 2009. The market growth has probably boomed unsustainably (and a little unexpectedly), however, and if appropriate policies aren’t put in place to slow it, the nascent solar bubble is expected to bust in the coming years.
Have more to add or questions about this list? Comment below. Special thanks to Adele Peters for her contribution to this article. Sign up with PURE Home Solar for group discounts, or use our calculator to estimate the cost of solar panels for your home.