op 8 countries leading the world in solar energy use:
China’s solar dominance
China has the world's largest solar capacity of around 340 GW. It leads the world in both solar energy use and the manufacturing of PV panels.
Solar accounts for approximately 3.5% of China’s total energy capacity. The country also owns the major part of the world’s solar panel supply chains, maintaining dominance in practically all key manufacturing stages.
China is a key player in the world’s renewable energy production, not only solar but also wind and hydro. The government supports the development of eco-friendly technologies to solve the problems of atrocious air and water pollution. Today it is obvious that China’s push into solar can go even further, especially given its abundant solar resources in the western part of the country.
U.S. as China’s biggest challenger for solar leadership
The United States is now home to over 100 GW of installed solar capacity. The use of solar energy is expanding rapidly in the U.S., which now has enough capacity to power 16% of homes in the country.
No wonder the U.S. keeps extending the foray into solar with its large number of sunny regions across the country. As a matter of fact, the state of Arizona is even recognized as the sunniest place on Earth! However, the country’s leader in deploying solar energy is currently California with over 20% of its electricity use falling on solar.
Apart from a radical shift toward carbon-free energy, the United States has been trying to boost domestic solar manufacturing capacity to challenge China in the struggle for world solar leadership, as China’s global dominance poses serious supply chain risks. Lately, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, marking the biggest investment in clean energy, particularly photovoltaics, ever made in U.S. history.
Japan’s solar energy boom
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster (2011), Japan’s investment in renewable energy soared. These days, Japan ranks third in the world for solar energy use. At the end of 2021, the country’s total solar capacity reached 78.5 GW, and the government targets putting into use another 111 GW by 2025, with this rising the total capacity to 180GW by 2030.
Japan has many mountainous areas that can’t be used for installing photovoltaic modules. The country attempts to address this limitation with so-called solar sharing — using land for both farming and solar power at the same time. The idea is to mount solar energy panels high enough above the ground so that plants can grow and farming equipment can operate underneath them.
Germany as the main backer of solar power in Europe
Germany had a cumulative solar energy capacity of nearly 59 GW as of 2021. In the first six months of 2022, Germany made a 22% jump in the installation of solar power systems, compared with the same period last year. The new German government is aiming to increase total solar capacity to 200 GW by 2030.
For many years, Germany has been actively using sunshine to generate electricity. As of 2022, solar roofs have become mandatory for all new residential buildings in Baden-Wuerttemberg, and such legislation can be adopted by other German regions shortly. The installation of photovoltaic modules will also become obligatory for all fundamental roof renovations starting from 2023. In the meantime, Germany as one of the oldest and biggest promoters of solar energy use needs a major replacement of its solar facilities with more modern energy efficient equipment.
India’s bet on solar energy
India has a huge potential for the use of solar energy. With less than 10 MW of solar capacity in 2010, it now has 50 GW installed. The country has set ambitious green energy goals aiming to generate 75% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050.
With around 300 sunny days in a year, India’s geographical location is particularly beneficial for generating solar energy. Despite perfect climate conditions, there are still some challenges that can hamper the development of solar power, such as a general lack of R&D and modern manufacturing facilities, various infrastructure-related issues, and insufficient transparency and accountability of the business environment. The country has to figure out how to solve these problems and where to find funding for its new PV projects.
Italy’s consistent interest in photovoltaics
Italy used to be a champion in deploying solar. In the European Union, the Italian photovoltaic sector with its 23 GW is currently second only to Germany. Under its new climate and energy plan, Italy aims to reach 50 GW of photovoltaic capacity at the end of 2030.
From the mid-2000s onwards, a whole series of incentives were launched in Italy to encourage solar energy use and the installation of solar systems. As a result, solar energy really gained traction in the country between 2005 and 2015.
What is curious, the geographical spread of photovoltaic plants in Italy is rather non-obvious. 44% of the total installed solar power is located in the north, 37% in the south, and 18% in the central regions.
Australia taking the leap into solar
The Australian continent has the highest solar radiation per square meter of any continent in the world. The country passed a major milestone at the end of 2021 with more than 25 GW of solar installed. Australia’s solar capacity grew by more than 20% last year, which is more than Europe’s record rate of expansion. Right now, solar covers 60% of its electricity needs.
As already stated, Australia is known for its abundance of sunshine, however, its uses for solar energy are only gaining momentum.
Vietnam’s bright solar prospects
South-East Asia is among the parts of the world most vulnerable to climate change. For that reason, the governments in the region are seeking how to facilitate the use of eco-friendly technologies. Vietnam is leading the transition to clean energy in South-East Asia. In 2020, there were 102 solar power plants brought into use in the country with a total capacity of 6.3 GW.
Much of Vietnam’s recent success with solar can be attributed to feed-in tariffs that encourage investment in renewables. A rapid rise in Vietnam’s use of solar energy has been considerably boosted by Chinese finance and technology.