Some countries are heavily installing and investing in solar energy, while others are not feeling a strong need to do the same. Why are some countries so successful within the solar market while others aren’t even playing? Let’s take a look at which countries have discovered the importance of utilizing renewable energy sources and the ways in which they are taking action.
As of May 2011, Germany had more than 18,000 MW of solar energy capacity, making them one of the world’s top PV installers. Solar energy is currently powering about 2% of the country’s total electric consumption and some analysts expect solar PV to provide about 25% of their total electric needs by 2050. Germany’s high number of solar installations is primarily due to government involvement. The German Renewable Energy Act introduced the Feed-in Tariff which costs 1 billion Euros a month to subsidize solar installations. The government has established a goal of having 66 GW of PV installations by 2030. They currently have 12.1 GW installed which is more than the total output of Japan’s entire 6-reactor nuclear power plant!
China isn’t necessarily a leader in PV installations like Germany, but they are leading the industry in the production of PV materials. They currently have about 400 companies that together produce over 23% of PV products worldwide. China produced about half of the world’s total production in 2007, although roughly 99% of it was exported. In comparison to other countries, China uses a small amount of domestically installed solar capacity. They have about 80 MW of PV installations but they extensively use solar water heating. In 2007, the National Development and Reform Commission announced plans to increase their solar capacity to 1,800 MW by 2020. China will have a very bright future in the solar industry if companies are able to continue producing low-cost, reliable PV modules. Some U.S. and Japanese companies have a technological edge over Chinese rivals but it is very rare that a company can compete on cost.
Spain is also one of the most advanced countries in the solar industry. Not only are they one of the largest manufacturers, but they are also taking advantage of the many hours of sunlight they receive by also installing numerous domestic PV systems. By 2010, Spain had 4 GW of solar capacity and about 2.7% of their total electricity coming from solar energy. The government has encouraged use of solar energy as they were committed to having 12% of the primary energy in the country to come from renewable sources by 2010. They also have a Feed-in Tariff, which slightly differs from the German model, to make solar installations more affordable for homeowners. The Spanish government has also implemented new building codes to promote sustainable building design. They are mandating solar hot water for new or remodeled private residencies and photovoltaic installation to offset a portion of the electric usage of commercial buildings. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, they had to cut subsidies for solar power which not only affected installations within Spain, but it also affected the solar industry worldwide.
Here in the United States, solar is becoming more of a topic of conversation as homeowners, businesses and state and federal governments are increasingly aware of the importance of investing in renewable energy sources. The U.S. has many utility scale solar plants; the largest in the world being the Solar Energy Generating Systems in California which produces 354 MW of solar energy. California is currently the state in the U.S. with the largest solar capacity and the governor established a goal of having 33% of electricity to come from renewables by the end of 2020. The federal government is also taking initiative to advance the solar market by subsidizing solar installations and investing in research and development. Until 2016, there is a 30% federal tax credit on residential and commercial PV installations, which the government expects to create 440,000 jobs, 28 GW of solar energy, and a $300 billion market. The U.S. Department of Energy is investing in large scale PV projects and the development of advanced PV materials with the goal of reaching grid parity. State governments are also implementing statewide incentives such as Feed-in Tariffs or Solar Renewable Energy Certificates to help reach state requirements.
Germany, Spain, China, and the United States are all large players in the solar industry. Some countries shine in the manufacturing of PV materials, while others are intent on having a larger portion of their domestic electricity to come from renewable sources. Either way, the fact that is important is that these countries are taking initiative to do their part in investing in the solar industry. One thing to take away from the commonalities of these countries is that government involvement and support plays a large role in the success of solar within the nation. Hopefully countries worldwide will see the opportunities available to become a part of the solar market and the benefit of doing so.
(Image Courtesy of https://www.mygreenerhome.co.uk)