Solar power was once a pipe dream some 30 years ago, and even when it started becoming a reality, most people and countries shied away from it because of how expensive solar technology was. Thankfully, modern innovation and extensive research lead to solar power becoming cheaper and more readily available.
This discussion regarding solar energy is needed because it is evident that we are all heavily dependent on electricity for our everyday lives and that our electrical needs will only grow as more time passes, however, we cannot continue our current lifestyle where we rely on non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuel, etc. to produce electricity because the world’s supply is depleting, and the harm caused by using fossil fuels has made itself known via global warming and climate change.
Globally speaking, the use of solar energy is at 11%, which is not a lot. Thankfully, some countries are beginning to take more initiative when it comes to promoting solar power, and you will see them implementing it on industrial, commercial, and residential levels. So if you are interested in knowing which countries are currently using solar power the most, you can continue reading the rest of this article.
We already know that air pollution in China is one of the worst in the world. This is because China has been heavily relying on coal and other fossil fuels to meet its energy needs. However, the government has started taking the initiative to switch over to solar energy and the government has been promoting solar energy for its industries and offering incentives, coverage, and so on.
In this short period, China became a leader in installing PV globally, and at the same time they also managed to increase their PV capacity as well, and if you are looking for numbers, then China managed to surpass 401 Gigawatts by 2017 alone, so you can imagine how much they must have expanded in another 3 years. China has several solar power plants and Jinko Solar Co. Ltd in Zhejiang and it currently houses up to 10,000 professionals and employees. China also happens to have the Tengger Desert Plant, which is currently the world’s largest solar farm.
Sadly, there are still a few hurdles that China is facing in its quest to become a solar power nation. China happens to be the biggest producer of polysilicon, a material used to create solar cells on a global level, and this production process leads to the development of harmful byproducts which can cause serious damage if not disposed of and taken care of properly.
China still has to figure out its infrastructure for solar energy since the production and consumption of solar energy are on two opposite ends of the country. While China still has to figure some things out, it is still safe to say that they are heading towards the right path and that China has been making a lot of progress when it comes to promoting the manufacture of solar energy as well as its overall consumption.
Most solar energy generating plants are also built in the densely populated west, whereas the consumption is mainly in the east with big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
The United States of America
Compared to China, the United States does not have the PV capacity, but they are also beginning to make progress in the solar market. The US has been able to install over 50 Gigawatts in terms of PV capacity, and in 2018 they managed to increase that number, and they were able to meet 1.6% of the country’s energy consumption needs.
It has been reported by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy that solar energy-related jobs took over the employment numbers than gas, coal and oil-related jobs in 2015, and in 2016 the numbers of people employed in the solar energy sector reached up to 260,000, and it has been noted that this accounts for 160% growth in employment in the energy sector, and it does not stop there as tremendous growth is expected in the 2020s.
American has several renowned solar power plants and this list includes the Solana Generating Station, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, and so on. The US also has a solar-powered desert in California as well.
The US, like all other countries, also has to face its share of hurdles in the quest to go solar. Like China, the US’s infrastructure is not suitable to handle renewable energy output, keeping in mind that the power grid system and infrastructure in the US are old and largely unchanged. While the US has not reached a desirable level of productivity or efficiency, the government is working towards enhancing and promoting solar power and addressing infrastructure related problems and issues.
Germany has managed up to 41.3 gigawatts in terms of the country’s PV installations, and this is the 2016 account, so it has probably increased that capacity significantly, and this is why Germany is currently the third-highest country to consume and produce solar energy in the world. It sounds small, but you need to consider the geographical size and population size of Germany to realize that this is an impressive feat for a small country, especially when compared to the size of both China and the US. Germany currently has over 30 solar power plants, all of which were established as early as the 2000s, and the government is looking to increase this. Currently, solar energy meets 7% of the country’s energy needs, and Germany has set a target of increasing their total solar energy consumption to meet the country’s consumption of up to 80% by 2050, so they want 80% of their energy needs to be met by renewable energy by then, and while it sounds ambitious, with the right policies and governance, it can be possible.
You will find solar panels and PV systems in commercial buildings, residential rooftops, solar parks, and so on. So, it is safe to say that Germany is making some big moves. One great example of a good policy is the FiT policy which started in 2012. FiT (feed-in-tariff) also known as renewable energy payment is a policy that promotes investment in renewable energy. According to this policy, producers and suppliers of renewable energy would get long-term contracts which also came with a lower per-kWh rate compared to the contracts and rate being provided to fossil fuel producers so that whoever invested in renewable energy would get maximum returns, hence prompting more people to join the renewable energy sector
The government is currently planning to mount PV panels on every building in certain parts of Germany to promote solar consumption and to reduce electricity bills as well. Germany has many world-renowned solar companies that include and are not limited to Centrotherm Photovoltaics, IBC Solar, Bosch Solar, and so on.
Japan has been making a lot of progress when it comes to solar energy development and this can be traced back to the late 1990s, and Japan is currently the fourth largest consumer of solar energy worldwide which is quite a feat if you consider the fact that they only have a population of 120 million people. Japan can meet 5% of its annual demand for electricity which is again impressive.
Once Japan moved away from nuclear power, they set their sights on solar power instead and established three new solar power plants from 2011-2012. The power plants included the Ogishima Solar Power Plant, the Komekurayama Solar Power plant, and the Ukishima Power Plant, all of which produce 13MW, 10MW, and 7MW respectively. Japan had initially set goals to increase their PV capacity to 28GW and then 53GW by 2020 and then 2030, and then Japan ended up exceeding expectations because they met their 2020 PV goal by 2014 and then 2030 PV goal by 2018. Currently, Japan has been working on the Yamakura Dam, which is a floating solar farm, and this project has been yielding good results since this solar farm can power and meet the energy needs of up to 5000 houses at the moment.
There are some struggles and hurdles to handle like Japan’s current power grid, which currently consists of 10 grids that are not interconnected as well, and that is why Japan needs to improve its national power grid. Plus there is a shortage of the right equipment so the government is struggling to meet the surge in solar energy demand in the country, and this process of upgrading and improving the electrical grid will be a costly one, however, if done right, Japan’s future when it comes to solar energy is beginning to look good.
India had set an initial target of reaching a 20GW PV capacity by the year 2022, and they ended up meeting that pretty early on. It has been reported that India PV capacity has already reached 31.6GW in 2020, so the government has currently re-adjusted their target and are now aiming for a 100GW PV capacity by 2022, and of that 100GW, they want 40GW from rooftop solar only.
This success is possible because India happens to have the lowest capital cost per MW globally, so that helps. There is also the fact that the Indian government is laying down policies and funds to entice solar investors and shareholders, making it possible for them to acquire land more easily, plus the government is investing over $100 million to make all of this possible, and these contributions can be seen in small things like how a million solar lanterns were made and sold in 2015 alone to reduce the need for kerosene for their lanterns. 46,000 solar-powered street lights and over 118,000 domestic solar lighting equipment has also been installed so far. Interestingly enough the headquarters of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) is situated in India and currently has 121 countries as members.
Now there are some hurdles for India as well, and that is the increase in the price of land in the country coupled with the overgrowing population. PV installation requires a lot of lands, something that India is slowly beginning to run out of. There is also the fact that India has to heavily rely on rooftop solar power since its current power grid is too outdated, so there are a few drawbacks for India. However, India has managed to show a lot of promise and can make even more leaps and strides in its quest to increase its PV capacity.
Bhadla Solar Park, Kurnool Mega Solar Park, and the Pavagada Solar Park are just some of the many solar power plants currently present and functioning in India.
Italy has the second-largest PV installation capacity in Europe, managing over 20GW after Germany, which is pretty good, and this was all managed by 2018. Italy has been in the renewable energy game early ever since they managed to establish their Conto Energia program in 2005 in a bid to support the development of renewable power, and the results for this investment started showing after 2009. In fact, by 2012, Italy had increased its PV capacity to 16GW, meaning it was almost a 15-fold increase, an impressive feat since this was only surpassed by Germany back then.
There was a decline in this rate after 2013 due to the reduction in subsidy programs by the government, but Italy has still been reporting a 300-400MW yearly growth to this day.
Italy can meet up to 8% of the country’s electrical consumption needs by 2017. There is also the fact that Italy has managed to install 2.64GW worth of rooftop PV, which is already 2.7% of the global PV capacity for residential rooftops by 2015.
Italy managed to reach the 20GW mark by 2018 and it has currently set a target to reach a 50GW PV capacity by 2030.
Thankfully the government and the EU have been putting in good policies and setting incentives to meet certain targets. The EU Directive has already made it a requirement for all of its member states to make their total renewable energy consumption reach 34% by 2020.
The FiT (Feed-in-Tariffs) which we had already mentioned in the case of Germany has also benefited Italy. Italy currently has several solar companies which include Enel Green Power, Tages Helios Technology, RTR Energy, and many more. In terms of power plants, Italy has the Serenissima Solar Park, the Rovigo PV Power Plant, The Montalto di Castro PV Power Station, and so on.
So given how things have been going, it is safe to assume that Italy is making a lot of good progress in terms of green, renewable energy.
Many other countries like France, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Canada, and many others are also beginning to make progress in terms of their solar energy output. All of this sounds promising, and with collaboration, and the right policies and incentives, many other countries will also start making a huge difference when it comes to their solar output.