Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

Have you ever wondered what the top 10 performing countries for solar energy are? Well, my friend, you've come to the right place. According to data collected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) for 2015 (2016 data is yet to be published) the global total cumulative PV installation is a whopping 227 GW worldwide. Most of this is grid-connected. This total amount of global PV produces more than 1.3 % of the world's electricity demand. IEA-PVPS, more on them later, member countries account for 197 GW of the world's total with the remaining coming from all the rest.

2015 saw a massive growth in the solar energy market with around 50.7 GW of additional installed capacity worldwide. Impressive. That equates to around 26.5% increase on 2014. This trend seems to be a result of the ever declining cost of PV systems and drive for low carbon economies. In Europe, 3.5% of total electricity demand is now supplied by PV and around 7% of peak demand.

According to IEA 23 countries have at least 1 GW of cumulative PV capacity by the end of 2015 with 7 countries installing at least 1 GW in 2015. Energy independence in becoming ever more desirable for sovereign nations and PV seems to be starting to pull its weight.

The following list order is based purely on cumulative PV capacity per nation.

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Pixabay]

Data Source

For this article, we have reviewed the last annual reports produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA). These guys were founded in 1974 and are an autonomous body within the OECD. IEA carries out comprehensive programs of energy cooperation between 29 member states and the EC.

In particular, we have looked at the IEA's Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA PVPS) to get the low down on the best performing solar energy countries. This program's mission is to “enhance the international collaborative efforts which facilitate the role of photovoltaic solar energy as a cornerstone in the transition to sustainable energy systems.”

Participating countries for IEA PVPS are currently Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States of America. The European Commission, SolarPower Europe, the Solar Electric Power Association, the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Copper Alliance are also members.

IEA Methodology for data gathering

The IEA data is drawn mainly from national survey reports and information summaries supplied by representatives from each of the reporting countries. If you are interested you can find the reports per country on their website. For non-participating states outside of IEA PVPS program, information is gathered from a variety of sources. As you can imagine, every attempt is made to ensure their accuracy but inevitably confidence in this data is less than those provided through their official channels.

IEA also collects information from official member state governmental bodies and other reliable industrial sources. For those countries outside of the network, data is gathered from industrial associations such are IRENA and REN21.

Results

Using the most current report from IEA-PVPS we have compiled the following list of the top ten cumulative PV capacities. We have also taken the liberty of showing the previous year's data, where available and shown their relative movement in position from 2014.

So without further ado using results from IEA-PVPS.org, the top 10 performing countries for solar energy are as follows. Some entries will be no surprise to you, others might well be. Enjoy, if you like this sort of thing, I do, what? Unless otherwise stated, any figures stated are provided by IEA-PVPS report which can be found in the article sources.

First place for solar energy: China

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 43.5 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 28.1 GW

2014 Position: Second

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: +1

2015 was a quite a year for China, not only has it beaten the record for highest capacity in a single country but also taken the lead. China knocked Germany off the top spot this year with an eye-watering total capacity of 43.5GW. Nice.

China has installed between 2013 and 2014 a total of 21.55 GW of solar generation systems with 15.2 GW alone in 2015. This growth reflects, no pun intended, Chinese Authorities' ambitions to continue developing their internal PV market. There is particular emphasis on PV distribution that began in 2014. China's ambition to reach 35 GW by 2015 was smashed - great work. They now aim for 143 GW by the year 2020, an increase of 100 GW from previous announcements. Will this growth be sustainable for China? Can they maintain their position in 2016? Only time will tell, they certainly seem set to meet their ambitious 2020 target.

China has implemented various schemes to incentivise the development of PV. They aim to develop utility scale PV, rooftop PV in city areas and micro-grids and off-grid applications in un-electrified regions of the country.

With China's massive and dense population, not to mention notoriously bad smog and pollution levels, it's great to see China doing so well. They have massively increased their PV capacity since 2009 to now top the charts. China does have a helping hand, however, they are, after all, one of the world's largest manufacturers of solar panels.

Second place for solar energy: Germany

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity:  39.7 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 38.2 GW

2014 Position: First

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: -1

Germany lost its long-held lead in 2015 to the powerhouse that is China. The country experienced a market decline of new installations to 1.5 GW due to changing support schemes and tendering exercises. Germany now has 7.1% of its annual electrical demand supplied by PV. Germany has decided to opt for tenders for large scale PV installations from 2015 onwards.

This is fairly significant because for the past three years, Germany has consistently added 7 GW of PV systems to the grid. This growth has been achieved thanks to a combination of several elements. These were a long term stability of support schemes, investor confidence and the appetite of residential, commercial and industrial building owners for PV installs.

Customers are now forced to pay a significant percentage of the levy paid by consumers to finance renewable incentives in Germany. This includes self-consumed part of the PV market. In 2015 Germany's cumulative PV capacity consisted 18% of the world's total, which is pretty impressive.

Germany actually has incentives for battery storage on PV systems, a stark contrast to most of Europe. Perhaps Germany will overtake China in 2016 but we are yet to find out.

Third place for solar energy: Japan

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 34.4 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 23.3 GW

2014 Position: Third

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: Same

Japan has managed to maintain its global ranking from 2014, not an insignificant feat. In the land of the rising sun, the rapid growth of the Japanese PV market lasted until 2014. This growth continued and the country reached around 11 GW, confirming Asia as the first world region for PV.

Despite their maintained position for cumulative totals, Japan has also maintained its position in second place for installed capacity. Japan managed to install 10.8 GW  in 2015,  a slight growth rate compared to 2014, but a record-high year for the Japanese PV market.

Interestingly, within the top ten countries, Asia-Pacific regions constitute around 50%, not too shabby. Japanese interest in renewable technology was greatly increased following the tragic accident at Fukushima.

Japan has a national subsidy for residential storage batteries. Prefabricated housing builders are also proactive in promoting PV systems with storage batteries.

Fourth place for solar energy: USA

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 25.6 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 18.3 GW

2014 Position: Fifth

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: +1

The United States of America managed to claw their way up the rankings in 2015 moving from fifth to fourth place. They also performed well for installed capacity in 2015 of 7.3GW, bringing them into third place. This compares to 4.75 GW and 6.2 GW in 2013 and 2014 respectively. This growth was mainly attributed to large utility-scale PV systems rather than rooftop installations. The US's total cumulative capacity, incredibly, now means that they can provide 11% of the total PV capacity in the world.

The US's growth has been helped by the EPA's final rulings on carbon emission reductions of 30% between 2020 and 2030. 2015 saw several countries, including Germany and the USA who have introduced competitive calls for tender to grant power purchase agreements (PPA) for PV.  Also, compensation of net-metering was the cause of several debates in the US. This resulted in the establishment of either caps or small fees to be introduced in net-metering for PV.

Globally, centralized PV now represents more than 60% of the market as of 2015. This has mainly been driven by China, the US and emerging PV markets.

Fifth place for solar energy: Italy

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 18.9 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 18.5 GW

2014 Position: Fourth

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: -1

Italy fell behind slightly in 2015, dropping from fourth in 2014 to fifth in 2015. Italy, Greece and Germany now produce 8, 7.4 and 7.1 percent of their annual electrical demand through PV alone. In 2015 Italy installed a modest 300-400 MW of PV systems in 2015. This contrasts to 9.3 GW in 2011, 3.6 GW in 2012 and 1.6 GW in 2013. IEA says,

This can be explained by the phase-out of the feed-in tariffs that are not granted anymore for new PV installations, leaving the market driven by the self-consumption scheme and additional tax rebates that are now in place.

It is interesting to note that in 2015 several countries have surpassed the 1 % mark of PV contribution to electrical demand. Italy is one of them, in fact not just one but first amongst all. They now contribute close to 8% and 3.5% of the entire European PV contribution not to mention 8% of the total world cumulative PV contribution. That's absolutely incredible. To be fair, they do get a lot more sun than say the UK.

Italy's average PV yield is around 1.3 kWh/kW and they installed a modest 300 MW of PV in 2015.

Sixth place for solar energy: UK

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 8.8 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 5.1 GW

2014 Position: Eighth

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: +2

The UK has historically been rather sluggish with PV uptake but not anymore. Moving up two places from 2014 to sixth place is pretty impressive. Although total installed capacity pales in comparison to sunnier, and frankly, much larger countries such as China or the US, the growth is still admirable.

Improvements have been made in PV efficiency, this tandem with stronger government backing has allowed the UK to become a poster child within the global solar market. Despite the cut in government funding of some incentives like "The Green Deal" (well until it's potential rebirth in 2017) and Feed-in Tariffs (FiT's), had helped the UK turbo boost its PV market.

The UK was Europe's largest market in 2015 with an install of 3.51 GW. This allowed the UK to beat Germany, who installed 1.5 GW, for increased PV installation in 2015.

Seventh place for solar energy: France

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 6.6 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 5.7 GW

2014 Position: Sixth

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: -1

France sadly dropped a position in 2015 despite stabilizing its market close to 0.9 GW installs. Behind the top seven, no country has installed more than 1 GW of PV systems in 2015. According to IEA,

France installed 879 MW in 2015. Australia remains a strong market with 935 MW installed in 2015 but with a segmentation shift ongoing. Finally, Canada installed around 600 MW.

France, like Germany, has also been reliant on PPA's. France has been using  PPA's to medium-to-large scale PV systems for some years now. These include commercial installations.

France's market used to be well behind in Europe and the world, it is now one of the best on the continent. A political decision was made several years ago to maintain the market at around 1 GW per year for the last few years. They also decided to increase it in the years to come. France's new additional capacity has been a bit sluggish in 2015 compared to previous years at 887 MW. This compares to 954 MW in 2014 and 1,120 MW in 2012. There is a conviction to increase these newly installed capacities in the years to come.

Following COP21, France has put a concerted effort into boosting its solar market by revising national PV installation targets. These are now 10.2 GW and between 18 to 20 GW by 2023. Will they achieve this? Only time will tell.

Eighth place for solar energy: Spain

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 5.4 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 5.38 GW

2014 Position: Seventh

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: -1

Spain has historically performed much higher than its current position prior to 2010, but has had a sluggish performance in recent years. They are not alone in Europe however. Some EU countries that previously grew quickly have now stalled or experienced small or significant reductions in total capacity.

Spain has reported around 56 MW of new additions in a complex context of harsh regulations for prosumers including "solar tax" on self-generated power. To most, this concept would be deemed a false economy, or worse, active sabotage of the PV market. Under Royal Decree 900/2015 regulatory framework for self-consumption was introduced. This established a maximum capacity for self-generation of electricity which must be equal or below a stated capacity.

This specifies two tiers. Type 1 has a maximum capacity of 100 kW, where no compensation for any surplus is provided when fed to the grid. Type 2 have no limit on capacity. The surplus can be sold in the wholesale market directly through an intermediary. There is, however, tax due of 0.5 Euro's/MWh as well as a 7% tax on the electricity produced.

According to the EIA,

Regulation indicates that self-generated power above 10 kW is charged with a fee per kWh consumed as a “grid backup toll”, commonly known as the “sun tax”. Adding battery storage to the installation also implies an additional tax.

Interesting times ahead for Spain.

Ninth place for solar energy: Australia

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 5.1 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 4.1 GW

2014 Position: Ninth

IEA-PVPS Member: Yes

Position change: Same

Maintaining its position from 2014, the "Land Downunder" or as I prefer to call it the "Land of Vegemite and hell no wildlife" comes in ninth in the world for total installed PV capacity. See, they are not just good at making soap operas, crocodile hunters and cork hats the author argues with no one in particular.

This is mainly due to its mature and strong PV market of around 1022 MW new installations within the year. Their PV market constitutes around 2% of the global market for new PV, which is pretty impressive. They also make up around 2% of the world's total cumulative PV capacity, currently 228 GW worldwide. In previous years Australia has shown a nice growth of 811 MW in 2013 and 863 MW in 2014.

According to IEA, Australia has "more than 5,1 GW of PV systems installed and commissioned, mainly in the residential rooftops segment (more than 1,5 million buildings now have a PV system; an average penetration of 19% in the residential sector, with peaks up to 50%), with grid-connected applications."

Australia's growth in PV in 2015 is solely thanks to three projects under the solar flagships programme that were commissioned. These were the solar farms at Nyngan (134MW), Broken Hill (64MW) and Moree (70MW). Their utility scale growth was around 287 MW with distributed application increasing 12% to 709 MW this year. IEA explains,

Australian Government support programmes impacted significantly on the PV market in recent years. The 45 000 GWh Renewable Energy Target (RET) (a quota-RPS system) consists of two parts – the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) and the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES).

Tenth place for solar energy: India

Top 10 Performing Countries for Solar Energy

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

2015 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 5 GW

2014 PV Cumulative Installed Capacity: 0.8 GW

2014 Position: Not top 10

IEA-PVPS Member: No

Position change: Promotion to top 10

Formerly nowhere to be seen, India has smashed expectations and elevated itself into the world's top ten for PV capacity. India could become one of the global PV market leaders in the coming years. Next, to India, Pakistan seems promising with several hundreds of MW installed.

India has managed to progress nicely to around 2GW new installs in 2015. This is a significant leap forward that could lead to an even larger development in the coming years. Exciting times for the sub-continent. India has more than 1 Billion inhabitants and has, for years, experienced severe shortages. The Indian PV market seems to have responded to this call to arms and turbo boosted India's PV capacity to 2.1 GW in 2015 from 779 MW in 2014. IEA explains,

The PV market in India is driven by a mix of national targets and support schemes at various legislative levels. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission aims to install 20 GW of grid-connected PV systems by 2022 and an additional 2 GW of off-grid systems, including 20 million solar lights. Some states have announced policies targeting large shares of solar photovoltaic installations over the coming years. Finally, 2 GW of off-grid PV systems should be installed by 2017.

India unveiled a new target of 100 GW in 2014 for the country. 60 GW of this to be centralised with the remaining 40 GW to be supplied by rooftop PV installations. India's central government has provided massive support for PV which should lead to good growth and significant increases in installations in the years to come.

Conclusion

So there you go, any surprises for you there? We certainly didn't expect to see India on the list but their commitment to tackle power shortages seems to have awoken the market there. Some are of no surprise to anyone interested in PV, with Germany, the US and the UK featured near the top to name but a few.

The PV market is looking pretty healthy globally and many governments are committed to sustain growth in PV installations in the future. Some with very ambitious targets indeed. It will be interesting to see China's progress in the coming years, not to mention India of course.

What do you think? Did any of this surprise you? Is your home nation featured? If so you can pat yourselves on the back. What do you think about the future for solar energy across the world? Will the list change considerably in the years to come? Let's start a conversation.

Sources: IEA-PVPS report, IEA-PVPS, EnergyGroup

[Featured Image Source: Stockpholio]

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