Top 10 Countries Using Solar Power
We hear a lot about how Germany and Spain have increased solar energy greatly in recent years with
supportive government policies. We also hear a lot about China’s big clean energy push. And, despite
trouble getting the US federal government to do much for solar energy, we know that the US is still
continuously moving forward on this front. But have you ever wondered which countries in the world
have the most installed solar energy?
Below are the top ten countries in the world according to installed photovoltaic (PV) solar 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.
Germany is clearly the world leader. In 2009 alone, Germany installed 3,806 megawatts (MW) of PV
solar energy capacity, which is more than Spain’s total capacity and almost eight times more than the
U.S. installed last year. “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)
Germany is expected to remain the top purchaser of solar panels throughout 2010 and may add 5,000
MW of new solar power this year. The feed-in-tariff program will begin to cut incentives this year, and
growth will eventually slow. Still, over the long term, Germany has a goal of using 100% renewable
energy by 2050, so it is likely that Germany will remain a strong market for solar power.
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 its new installed capacity
decreased tremendously (to just 69 MW) in 2009. 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
Japan is third globally and also a country worth emulating. Government residential PV programs, netmetering, 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. Japan
invested $9 billion in stimulus money in solar energy in 2009, and the prime minister also announced a
plan to install solar power at 32,000 public schools.
4. United States
Supportive state-level policies are a major driver of growth in the US. With many large groundmounted 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. Despite the recent recession, the US market for residential solar
panels doubled in 2009, and increased 37% from 2008.
Mixing net-metering and a well-segmented FIT (combined with a lot of sunshine), Italy has become a
world leader in solar energy. In 2009, Italy experienced the second-largest solar energy growth in the
world. Every two months, Italians install more solar power than California does in an entire year. (To
put that in perspective, Italy is slightly smaller in land size than California, with a fairly similar
population). “The future growth of the market will depend on the streamlining and harmonization of
administrative procedures, combined with an adapted decrease of the FIT in the third Congo Energy to
cope with the expected price decrease,” the EPIA reports.
6. Czech Republic
A generous FIT and simple administrative procedures have put the Czech Republic on this list. Per ca
pita, it installed more new solar power than any other country besides Germany in 2009. The market
growth has probably boomed unsustainable (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.
The image above shows Belgian solar flowers. Belgium was also a bit of a 2009 solar energy surprise.
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.” Belgium is not
expected to do so well in 2010 “due to a foreseen tariff decrease.”
China gets a lot of attention these days for its clean energy push, and for good reason. China is a major
solar panel manufacturer but hasn’t installed a ton of PV itself yet. However, it now has 12 gigawatts
(GW) of large projects in the pipeline and if those projects are implemented China is expected to jump
closer to the top of the list. According to China’s national energy plan, it is expected to reach a total of
20 GW by 2020. Nonetheless, as with many things in China, the plans remain vague (to the rest of the
world) for now.
France has a well-designed FiT for building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), so BIPV dominates the
market there. They’ve put protections in place to help avoid abuse of the system, and may revise the
tariffs to accompany price speculations. One key issue of concern in France is that although many MW
of solar energy have been installed, a lot of them have not been connected to the grid. In 2009, 285
MW of capacity was installed but only 185 MW connected to the grid. This is a major issue that needs
to be resolved.
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 long term power purchase agreement that could definitively
trigger PV deployment in India,” EPIA states. India could quickly rise higher on this list with proper