Solar Energy Trends Around the World

The installation of new solar power has been increasing around the world every year. The global solar PV capacity was a staggering 593.9 GW by the end of 2019 and estimated to increase to more than 1500 GW by 2030. Some 15 countries, led by Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic, have been doing very well in terms of the most important measure, solar capacity per capita. Unfortunately, however, none of the five countries most responsible for CO2 emissions – the USA, China, India, Russia, and Japan – are in the top 15. That’s the bad news. However, four of these countries – all except Russia – have been adding solar power rapidly. MENA is also rapid developments in adoption of solar power, especially in Morocco, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The growth of China’s deployment of solar energy, actual and planned, in the past decade has been phenomenal. By 2003, China’s installed solar capacity was only 42 MW (0.042 GW), but by 2011, China had installed 7 GW. In 2017, China became the first country to pass 100 GW of cumulative installed PV capacity, and it had 174 GW of cumulative installed solar capacity by the end of 2018.

Renewables make up about 29 percent of Germany’s energy consumption


China will hence probably soon surpass all other countries combined in the total amount of solar power installed – although its population is so huge that the percentage of its electricity generated from solar is still very small.

A government that wants to promote a type of clean energy provides a “feed-in tariff,” which covers the difference between the present market price of electricity and what it would cost generating electricity with that form of clean energy.

In 2012, Japan provided an especially generous feed-in tariff for solar energy, helping the country increase its solar installation greatly. Whereas China and Japan by 2010 had contributed only 10 percent of the deployment of global solar power, by the end of 2018 they accounted for more than 50 percent.

India, after getting off to a slow start, authorized a National Solar Mission in 2010 and by 2013 it had added 1 gigawatt of solar power, which galloped to 35.7 GW by August 2020.

As for the United States, it has made great strides this century. From 52 MW installed in 2002, it rose to 7,200 megawatts by 2012 and then in 2013 became one of only four countries to have installed 10 GW. The installed solar power capacity in USA has rapidly increased to 88.9 GW by 2020. However, given America’s wealth and technology, this figure is not especially impressive, compared with the other three countries, especially relatively small Italy and Germany, which have installed much more.

But the important thing is what the USA does now. “America’s solar energy potential,” noted a 2013 report by Environment America, “is virtually endless.” Why? Because “America has enough solar energy potential to power the nation several times over.” In addition, “every one of the 50 states has the technical potential to generate more electricity from the sun than it uses in the average year.” In 19 states, “the technical potential for electricity generation from solar photovoltaics exceeds annual electricity consumption by a factor of 100 or more.”

Moreover, 85% of the solar electricity generated thus far has occurred in only 12 states, dubbed the “dazzling dozen” (and even they have only begun to realize their potential – California, which does the best, has so far fulfilled only 6 percent of it).

According to solar energy maps, the United States has been doing well, increasing its solar power almost 420 percent between 2010 and 2013. But by another measurement, it has hardly begun, accounting for slightly over 1 percent of America’s electricity.

The Promise of Concentrated Solar Power

Solar photovoltaic provide only one of the types of solar energy. There is also concentrated (also called “concentrating”) solar power, which one physicist has called the “technology that will save humanity.” In this technology – abbreviated CSP – mirrors create concentrated solar power by aiming sunlight at seawater so as to turn it into steam, which then drives turbines to create electricity.


In 2011, for example, a CSP plant in Spain showed that it was able to produce electricity for 24 hours straight. Also, CSP can generate three times more power per acre than solar plants using PV technology, and CSP technology does not require any scarce and hence expensive materials: “CSP plants are made from low-cost and durable materials such as steel and glass.”

Perhaps the greatest advantage of CSP plants is their ability to provide “dispatchable energy,” meaning “power that can be turned on or off on demand.” Accordingly, they can be turned on when the demand for electricity is the greatest. “Current CSP plants can store thermal energy for up to 16 hours, which means that their production profile can match the demand profile (just like a conventional power plant).”

CSP is mainly used in large (utility-scale) solar energy generating systems (SEGS). The largest one in the world is the Ivanpah plant in California’s Mojave Desert. Consisting of nine solar plants, it produces 354 megawatts. (A megawatt, abbreviated MW, is 1,000 kilowatts, or a million watts.)

Having been around since the 1980s, CSP was dormant for 30 years but is now experiencing a resurgence, which began in Spain. For several years, Spain was the CSP leader, but because of a political change in Spain, combined with the building of enormous CSP facilities in Arizona and Southern California, leadership has shifted to the U.S.

There are also large CSP plants in operation, or in development, in other parts of the world, such as one in India’s Gujarat Solar Park and a huge facility in oil-rich Abu Dhabi. Greenpeace has predicted that CSP could meet 7 percent of the world’s projected power needs by 2030, rising to 25 percent by 2050.

David Ray Griffin
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16 thoughts on “Solar Energy Trends Around the World

  1. I am not entirely sure why we humans always go for huge, monolithic solutions. The “economy of scale” of some mass generation are often negated in part by transmission energy losses. Roof-mounted solar PV remains the best option, IMO… just as Nature operates in small cells, clustared into molecules, cells, tissue and organs, that work together to make an organism, humanity should do the same…

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