Illustration of the global solar development concept

Summary

  • Solar power had the second most significant growth out of all the renewable technologies in 2020, with a record-breaking 18% annual growth. This surge was partly due to the looming policy deadlines in the United States, China and Vietnam.
  • A yearly average generation growth of 24% from 2020 to 2030 will be needed to achieve the solar photovoltaic (PV) generation point of 6 970 TWh in 2030. It may seem no challenging feat with an average yearly 27% expansion record over the past five years. Still, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the momentum as the solar market grows.
  • Worldwide, countries are racing towards a low-carbon future by embracing solar power and other renewable sources. The benefits from the green transition include a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, diversification of energy resources, and reduced dependence on fossil fuel markets.
  • Although many governments are working hard towards executing solar power incentives to help promote and sustain renewable energy growth, some nations have a way to go. For example, India experienced massive solar project delays due to their stick Covid-19 lockdown, and Russia is only just waking up to the climate emergency.

Introduction

It comes as no surprise that solar power uptake is on the increase across the world. Solar photovoltaic (PV) generation had a record-breaking annual growth of 18%, with 138 GW installed in 2020. It had the second most significant generation of development out of all the renewable technologies in 2020—only behind wind power. This exponential solar power boom has been partly due to the impending policy deadlines in the United States, China and Vietnam.

In most parts of the world, solar power is becoming the lowest cost option for electricity generation—and is expected to drive investments in solar power in the coming years. The Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows an average annual solar generation growth of 24% between 2020 and 2030. The almost 400% increase in solar yearly power deployment until 2030 will require a global effort. This will involve greater policy rollouts and improved efforts from public and private stakeholders, specifically in grid integration, mitigation of policy, regulation and financing challenges in emerging and developing countries.

Ensuring solar power uptake keeps its upward trend, countries must make more effort to stay on track to meet the net-zero emissions by 2050 target. This article examines the nations leading the way with solar power and highlights some regions that need to catch up.

Global Renewable Energy Policy

The surge in solar power growth in 2020 was prompted by the enormous investment boom by renewable developers wanting to take advantage of the elapsing solar support schemes in the United States, China, and Vietnam.

Solar PV power generation is estimated to have increased by 156 TWh in 2020, indicating a 23% growth from 2019. Out of the total global electricity generation, it was recorded that 3.1% derived from Solar PV and remained the third-leading renewable electricity technology, just after hydropower and wind power.

The surge in solar power growth in 2020 was prompted by the enormous investment boom by renewable developers wanting to take advantage of the elapsing solar support schemes in the United States, China and Vietnam. However, China alone was responsible for around 75% of the solar PV installations between 2019 and 2020. This was due to the looming 2020 deadline for all solar projects contracted under China’s FIT scheme to be connected to the grid. In addition, solar developments awarded in previous central or provincial competitive auctions also had to be hooked up.

Similarly, in the United States, there was an approaching expiration of policy incentives with the solar production tax credit coming to an end—although it was decided to extend it for another year in December 2020. There was also the phasing out of the FIT for solar PV projects in Vietnam in 2020. This led to a national rush in commercial and residential solar installations. Meanwhile, in the European Union, counties were also increasing their solar power installation efforts to try and get back on track with their 2030 climate targets.

Even with the surge in policies supporting the deployment of solar projects, reaching an annual solar PV generation point of 6 970 TWh in 2030 from the current 820 TWh will demand a yearly average generation growth of 24% from 2020 to 2030. It may look to be an easy feat with an annual average 27% expansion record over the past five years. However, it will become increasingly tough to maintain momentum as the PV market grows. A vast global effort from stakeholders will be needed to raise solar power implementation from the 134 GW of 2020 to 630 GW per year until 2030.

Countries Winning the Solar Power Race

The benefits from the green transition are likely to be vast, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, diversification of energy resources, and a decreased reliance on fossil fuel markets.

Countries worldwide are surging towards a low-carbon future by embracing solar power and other renewable sources. As a result, there is now a green race to determine which nation will be the first to become climate-neutral. The benefits from the green transition are likely to be vast, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, diversification of energy resources, and a decreased reliance on fossil fuel markets. The growth of solar power projects may also stimulate employment due to creating jobs in new ‘green’ technologies.

Here are a few examples of the countries currently winning the solar power race:

  • China

In 2020, China’s solar PV capacity rebounded following the slowdown between 2018 and 2019. Solar capacity additions reached 48 GW in 2020 due to the rush to complete utility-scale solar projects before the FIT scheme concluded at the end of the year. While the expansion in 2020 was still below that of China’s 53 GW record in 2017, it shows promising signs of the country’s return to solar power progress.

In general, the policy shift towards less subsidy-driven solar project implementation is projected to result in solar PV technology becoming more economical both in and outside of China. This will lead to even more sustainable developments over the long term. There are already 40 GW of subsidy-free developments in the pipeline with under 20-year contracts at provincial electricity rates.

China’s PV expansion is expected to boost enormously due to the 14th Five-Year Plan’s new target and policy scheme, along with the additional cost reductions in solar technology. The majority of the solar projects in China are utility-scale. However, distributed solar PV capacity is also anticipated to increase rapidly due to new auctions for industrial and commercial applications and subsidies for residential solar systems.

  • United States

Solar PV capacity in the United States is not looking to slow down any time soon. In 2020, it increased by 45%—resulting in the 2015 15 GW record being broken with an impressive 19 GW of solar power generation. The primary cause of this acceleration was the scheduled phaseout of the solar production tax credit. Nevertheless, the federal government chose to extend the incentive for another year.

The United States aims to continue to propel solar capacity deployment. It is understood that PV deployments will increase due to a surge in demand via power purchase agreements, declining costs, and continued growth in residential and commercial markets across the country.

  • Brazil

During 2020, Brazil continued to lead Latin America’s solar PV capacity additions. They installed over 3 GW of solar power, a 58% growth from 2019. There has also been the introduction of a generous net metering incentive which is expected to help support the continued rapid expansion as residential and small commercial consumers receive considerable returns on their solar investments.

  • Vietnam

Vietnam’s solar PV deployment success in 2019 continued in 2020 due to the cessation of its FIT scheme. It resulted in additions of 11 GW of capacity, more than double the solar power in 2019. The 2019 solar boom involved utility-scale installations, while the 2020 growth mainly occurred in distributed PV systems. Vietnam has been a fantastic example of a nation that has grown from almost zero to 16 GW in two years. However, solar PV deployment is likely to slow down due to system integration challenges.

  • European Union

After doubling solar PV additions in 2019, the European Union increased another 15% in 2020. The markets with the highest solar growth rates in 2020 were Germany (up 5 GW), Spain (up 3 GW), the Netherlands (up 3 GW) and Poland (up 2 GW). They are now intensifying their efforts to reach climate goals through their 2030 Climate Target Plan.

Room For Solar Power Improvement

The Kremlin has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 following the pivotal COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Illustration of green gains and losses on the planet.

Although many governments are working hard towards implementing solar power incentives to help stimulate and sustain renewable growth, some have a way to go. For example, there was less than 4 GW of solar PV capacity in India in 2020, almost 60% less than in 2019. The leading cause of the drop was disruptions to the supply chain, construction, and logistics caused by the strict national Covid-19 lockdown. It resulted in considerable delays in the commission of many solar projects throughout India. Solar deployment in India is expected to rebound in the future as capacity is contracted through actions and the national PV sector continues to expand slowly.

The Russian Federation is another country required to substantially focus on renewable energy capacity, especially being the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. The Kremlin has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 following the pivotal COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Although Russia typically has low temperatures and few sunny days, it does not mean solar power can not be implemented on a mass scale. Most Russian regions have insolation of above 1,000—the level needed for solar power generation.

The Takeaway

The damage humans have inflicted on the planet is a complex problem to fix, and it will require input from all nations. There is no single way to solve the problem, but studies into the issue show that renewable energy sources can significantly reduce the climate change problem.

In the next decade, clean electricity deployment must accelerate to replace reliance on fossil fuels and meet rising energy demands. Solar power is one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of power. It is poised to lead this transformation by electrifying the world’s economy and providing electricity access for all. However, which nation will stay ahead of the solar race over the next 20 years is yet to be determined.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why should countries use renewable energy?

Climate change is an enormous problem that affects every living thing on the planet. By generating clean energy with no greenhouse gas emissions, it will help reduce air pollution. In addition, sources like solar power diversify energy supply and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels. It also helps create economic development and new green employment opportunities within solar manufacturing, installation, and management.

 

Which country generates all their electricity using renewable energy?

Iceland is the clear winner when it comes to powering its nationals with clean, renewable energy. They have taken full advantage of its renewable natural resources and generated almost 100% of their power and now have the most significant amount of clean energy per person than any other country. Iceland gets 75% of the electricity from hydropower and 25% from geothermal. With its volcanic activity, they also have access to geothermal energy—resulting in 87% of its hot water and heating coming from this source alone.

 

How many countries are using solar energy?

As of 2020, there are at least 37 countries worldwide with a cumulative solar PV capacity of more than one gigawatt. By early 2020, China was in the lead of the solar power race, with 208 GW, accounting for one-third of global installed solar capacity. The top ten countries producing solar power are as follows:

  • China
  • United States
  • Japan
  • Germany
  • India
  • Italy
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • France
  • South Korea

 

Why does China have so much solar energy?

China has had a hold over the global solar sector since the late 2000s. This has been primarily due to their effort to reduce dependence on foreign energy. Beijing invested vast quantities of money into solar technology, facilitating companies to make multibillion-dollar investments in new factories and gain a global market share. Chinese-produced photovoltaic cells have resulted in the construction of new solar power projects much cheaper than previously available.

 

Is solar energy growing in Canada?

Solar power generation in Canada has significantly grown over the past ten years. The total installed capacity increased from 221 MW in 2010 to 3,310 MW at the end of 2019. According to the Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA), Canada will have installed at least 70 MW of solar PV capacity in 2020. The Canada Energy Regulator anticipates solar power to make up 3% of Canada’s total electricity generation capacity by 2040.

 

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