Solar energy’s boundless potential

Photovoltaic technologies are going from strength to strength. Every year, more and more solar panels are being installed the world over. In 2016, total capacity increased by 50% in relation to 2015. Growth is especially strong in China and the United States.

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Looking at the global picture, in 2016 the installation of new photovoltaic panels experienced a boom, with about 76 gigawatts (GW) of additional capacity – an increase of more than 30% in comparison with the 50 GW installed in 2015.

These additional 76 GW have made it possible to supply electricity to a further 25 million households, each of which consumes an average of 3,500 kWh per year. For reference, total global photovoltaic capacity is currently 305 GW.

China leads the world

The largest number of new photovoltaic panels is found in China and the United States. Significantly, the Chinese National Energy Agency stopped the construction of a hundred or so coal-fuelled power stations, with a rated capacity of over 100 GW, in favour of solar facilities with an overall capacity of 34 GW – which makes China the world leader in solar energy, ahead of the United States (approximately 13 GW) as well as Japan (approximately 9 GW).

India is on track

The photovoltaic energy market is also developing at a steady pace in India. Expected growth in 2017 is of the order of 8-9 GW. For its part, Europe already has 104 GW of installed capacity, but growth has slowed down, dropping by more than 21% to 6.7 GW.

James Watson, CEO of SolarPower Europe, has nevertheless stated that the European industry is poised to conquer a larger share of the market. In his view, “to achieve this goal, we need an open economic policy to support growth as well as an industrial policy that stimulates job creation in the sector.”

The North-South gap

If we look at solar potential on a world map, we are struck by the fact that the number of installed solar panels is not proportional to the potential in different regions. Thus, we find far fewer photovoltaic systems in the regions enjoying the highest number of hours of sunshine – Africa, South America, Central America – than in regions with less sun exposure, such as Europe and the United States.

Germany ranks first among the countries with the greatest number of photovoltaic panels per inhabitant, even though its usable solar energy potential is half that of Algeria, for example. When countries situated in the sunniest regions start investing in photovoltaic facilities, the available solar energy capacity will increase dramatically.

You may also want to read: 5 things you probably don’t know about solar energy.

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