Attempting to harness the power from the sun, several countries have taken the lead in capturing the energy and using it as a viable source of electricity. The United States has made strides in positioning itself as one of five leaders in solar energy production, along with China, the EU, Vietnam, and Japan as ranked by the International Energy Agency.
Although solar power was once considered a niche market, countries are proving that this source of renewable energy is a legitimate response to the world’s search for alternatives to fossil fuels.
- China leads the world as the top producer of solar energy, installing more than 48 GW of photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2020.
- The EU, the United States, Vietnam, and Japan are ranked as top solar producers.
- A gigawatt (GW) is a unit of measurement of electrical power.
- Photovoltaic (PV) technology converts sunlight into electrical energy.
As the nation with the largest population and carbon footprint, China’s clear commitment to renewable energy is encouraging. According to the U.S.- China Joint Glasgow Declaration in 2021, the United States and China affirmed their commitment to work together and with other parties to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement and welcome the significant efforts being made around the world to address the climate crisis.
In 2020, according to China's National Energy Administration, the country installed more than 48 GW of photovoltaic (PV) capacity 2020, bringing its total installed capacity to 253,6 GW.
This PV capacity is enough for China to keep its market leader position with the Chinese market representing 33% of total global installations. However, it's interesting to note that in 2017 China's market share was 51%. China's declining dominance in the market coincides with a record number of new countries installing significant PV capacity.
The majority of photovoltaic products, or solar panels, are being installed in remote areas by solar farms that sell the energy to utilities. Satellite imagery confirms the incredible growth of these enormous solar farms in China.
China’s drastic increase in solar power stems from the nation’s desperate need for electricity and its severe air pollution crisis. While some nations have curbed incentives to install solar panels, China’s government is aggressively encouraging financial institutions to give incentives for solar installations.
2. European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 countries and is ranked the second-largest producer of solar energy. The number of European Member States conducting auctions for solar energy has increased and has successfully driven down prices.
In 2021, the European Union experienced growth for the third year in a row with 19,8 GW, closer to the 23,2 GW recorded in 2011. Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain were the key markets followed by Poland, France, and Belgium.
The total installed PV power capacity in the European Union surpassed 138 GW in 2020. Almost 55% were residential and commercial rooftop installations. The PV market in the European Union was declining for six years before the trend reversed in 2018.
3. United States
The United States has continued to improve its standing as a leader in solar power by expanding its utility sector and residential market installations. Much of the increase is attributable to substantial government incentives given to the residential sector, which is a fast-growing market segment.
In 2020, the residential market and utility sector increased over their 2019 levels of 15% and 37%, respectively.The total new installed capacity for 2020 came in at 19,7 GW, which brought the U.S. to 95 GW of cumulative installed capacity. As the cost of solar power becomes more cost-competitive with nonrenewable resources, U.S. output is expected to continue to grow in the years to come.
The International Energy Agency estimates solar energy production represents 860 million tons of CO2 savings every year.
According to the International Energy Agency report in 2021, Vietnam ranks as a 2020 leader in solar energy advances with an estimated 11,1 GW.
In 2020, the government revised rates for utility-scale, rooftop, and floating PV projects and should allow further growth of the utility-scale market, leading to massive development in 2019 and 2020, far beyond the government expectations for 2020.
Vietnam's success was also spurred by a government policy that encouraged investment in solar energy by guaranteeing producers an above-the-market price. The policy enabled the nation to see five times more installations than initially projected by the government. Vietnam claimed 7.7% of the global PV market in 2020.
As one of the most densely populated countries in the world, Japan has limited space to deploy solar panels. Despite this, Japan is still among the world’s leaders in total solar energy produced, with 8,7 GW of new installed capacity in 2020.
After the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011, Japan committed to solar energy as part of a plan to double its renewable energy by 2030. Out of necessity, Japan found creative places to install solar panels. A boom in the popularity of golf in Japan in the 1980s led to an overabundance of golf courses, many of which were completely abandoned as of 2015. Many of these forgotten courses are now completely covered in photovoltaic products.
The island nation has also created floating “solar islands” with thousands of water-resistant solar panels. These next-generation solar farms have several advantages such as their ability to be efficiently cooled with water.
What Is the International Energy Agency and the Photovoltaic Power Systems Program?
The International Energy Agency was founded in 1974 and focuses on the future of energy security and sustainability with global collaboration made up of experts across government, academia, and industry dedicated to advancing common research and the application of specific energy technologies. The IEA Photovoltaic Power Systems Program was established in 1993 to “enhance the international collaborative efforts which facilitate the role of photovoltaic solar energy as a cornerstone in the transition to sustainable energy systems.”
What Is GW and PV in Relation to Solar Power?
A gigawatt (GW) is a unit of measurement of electrical power. Photovoltaic (PV) technology is made up of PV materials and devices to convert sunlight into electrical energy. A single PV device is known as a cell and an individual PV cell can produce about 1 or 2 watts of power.
How Does Solar Energy or Photovoltaic (PV) Technology Contribute to Electricity Demand?
Solar energy, or PV, represented 4% of global demand for electricity in 2020.