Leading the Way in Solar: Harnessing the Power of the Sun Around the World

Increased interest in renewable energy over the last decade or so has left the world with a new, more environmentally friendly outlook on power. Countries around the world are striving for lower carbon footprints, increased energy efficiency, and innovative ways of sourcing and consuming electricity. Solar power, as you might imagine, is at the forefront of renewable energy and the rapidly developing technology behind solar is making it more accessible than ever for industries and residential customers of all shapes and sizes. At Home Improvement Leads, we believe that solar power is the future of energy use and find current international trends in renewable energy fascinating. Here are some of our findings on the status of solar power today, including a few international statistics and technological developments as well as the state of solar power in the UK today.

International solar statistics

The worldwide solar market has developed and changed significantly in the past few years, with intriguing new statistics that show the changing face of solar power. According to the International Energy Agency – Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme’s Trends 2016 in Photovoltaic Applications report, China still leads the global solar market with the number one slot in the top 10 installations for 2015 list. After installing 15.15 gigawatts (gW) of photovoltaics (PVs) in 2015 (the highest recorded annual installation in the history of these trend reports), China maintains a worldwide lead of 43.5 gW of installed PV capacity to date.

While Japan and the United States stay at number two and three respectively with 10.8 gW and 7.3 gW of installed PV capacity for 2015, there are several newer additions to the top 10 list that demonstrate how solar power is changing around the world.

Both the United Kingdom and India are newcomers to the top five—with smaller annual installations of 4.1 gW and 2.1 gW respectively—but their presence alone shows that the renewable energy market in these countries is growing quickly and that they have a bright solar future. The UK, at number four on the International Energy Agency’s list of 2015 installations, has been a part of the top 10 list since 2013 but has seen steady and significant growth over the past few years with increased residential PV installations as well as industrial use.

Until recently, India was considered to be an emerging solar market with significant installations in industrial and off-grid areas alone. However, the introduction of widespread residential solar power has allowed this country to jump up onto the radar of the International Energy Agency and be seen for its true solar potential. At number five on the list, India is expected to stay at the forefront of solar power for the foreseeable future because of its size and potential for both grid-based and off-grid installations.

The rest of the top 10 PV installations for 2015 includes Germany at number six, Australia at seven, Korea at eight, France at nine, and Canada at 10. Interestingly, Germany’s lower position this year is a result of several years of declining annual PV installations but still leaves the country at number two for cumulative solar capacity with 1.46 gW installed in 2015 and just under 40 gW total (slightly less than China’s 43.5 gW).

What do these numbers mean for the global solar market? With around 51 gW of installed solar capacity in 2015 alone, the cumulative PV capacity for the whole world is now roughly 228 gW and is set to grow even more in the coming years.

For more statistics on the global renewable energy market, check out more from the International Energy Agency or the Energy Statistics pages from the United Nations.

Solar power in the UK

As mentioned above, the solar market in the United Kingdom has seen significant developments in recent years. This is largely due to decreasing costs of photovoltaic panels and government schemes that allow solar power to be accessible and financially beneficial for more homeowners.

According to the September 2016 Solar Photovoltaics Deployment report from the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, the UK now has over 11 gW of cumulative photovoltaic capacity—an increase of around 30% from this time last year. However, there are several potential barriers to the continued growth of the UK solar market, including the recent cuts to wind and solar power by the new Conservative government.

Until recently, Feed-In Tariffs have been of particular interest to British homeowners who use solar power because these schemes allow solar power users to receive paybacks from their energy companies on the money generated by their PV panels. If a home produces more energy than it needs, government incentives like these will offer a small payment to homeowners for simply using their solar panels. The original Feed-In Tariff scheme is unfortunately now defunct, but the new version promises to give homeowners a generation-tariff, or preset subsidy amount for each kilowatt hour produced by their solar panels. You can find out more about this new scheme here.

The growth of the solar market in the UK is partially dependent on price, but the availability of shared and community solar programmes that make solar power accessible to a larger part of the population also contributes to the success of renewable energy. Several shared solar farms, including the Orchard Community Energy project in Kent and Wedmore Solar Farm in Somerset, are in the early stages of planning and development with the ultimate goal of offering shared solar and funds to local communities.

More information on the current developments and challenges of the solar market in the UK can be found at the Solar Power Portal.

Current solar developments

While the United Kingdom is certainly making strides towards a high profile in the global renewable energy market, there are projects going on in other areas of the world that will take solar power to an entirely new level.

Solar farms like the ones mentioned above in the UK are one of the newest developments in the solar world, but the massive solar plants in California—this American state holds the top three slots in PE magazine’s list of largest solar photovoltaic plants in the world—demonstrate just how far shared solar can go. The largest of these plants, the Solar Star Projects in Kern and Los Angeles counties, has a capacity of 579 megawatts and can power up to 255,000 homes. These kinds of projects are crucial to the development of accessible solar power for industries, businesses, and homes that might otherwise not be able to benefit from renewable energy.

In the high tech world of solar power, one name has stood out in news headlines for several years. Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla, is an innovative inspiration for renewable energy technology around the world. The latest solar news from Tesla is the introduction of integrated solar roof tiles that can link to Musk’s solar battery known as the Powerwall in order to maximize energy efficiency and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a home.

Because the technology behind solar power is changing so rapidly, it can be difficult to stay up to date on the most current scientific developments behind photovoltaics and solar innovation. However, it is clear to see that solar power is a viable and reliable renewable energy source that is here to stay. If countries around the world embrace it, solar power will soon replace standard energy use and significantly alter our impact on the environment.

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