The world is adopting renewable energy sources at an unprecedented rate, with solar energy leading the way.
Despite a 4.5% decline in global energy demand in 2020, progress in renewable energy technologies is encouraging. Renewable energy has seen strong growth across the board, with solar leading the way, with 127GW of solar capacity installed in 2020, the highest annual capacity expansion ever.
Solar power by country in 2021
The above infographic uses data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to map the solar electricity capacity of countries in 2021, including solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar electricity capacity.
As you can see in the graph, China has the most installed solar capacity, with over 35% of the global capacity. What's more, the country shows no signs of slowing down. And China is also developing the largest number of wind and solar projects in the world, which could add another 400,000MW of clean energy capacity.
According to statistics 2019, Chinese companies produced 66% of the world's polysilicon. In addition, more than three quarters of solar cells and 72% of global PV modules come from China.
And with five of the world's 10 largest solar power plants located in China, it's no surprise that China has the largest total installed capacity when you look at these figures.
China is followed by the USA, where another 50,000MW of PV projects were installed in the first three months of 2021. Recently, the US has surpassed 100,000 MW of PV capacity and has seen an impressive average annual growth rate of 42% over the last decade. Policies such as the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which provides a 26% tax credit for residential and commercial solar systems, have propelled the PV industry forward.
Then there is the amount of solar power generated in Australia. It is only a fraction of China's. But with a relatively small population of 26 million, it ranks high per capita. It is also worth noting that Australia has the highest solar irradiation of any continent. Over 30% of Australian households now have rooftop solar PV systems.
What's driving the solar electricity boom?
The energy transition is a major factor in the rise of renewables, but solar energy is growing partly because, over time, it has become very cheap. The cost of solar energy has fallen exponentially over the last decade and it is now the cheapest source of new energy power.
Since 2010, the cost of solar electricity has fallen by 85%, from $0.28 to $0.04 per kilowatt hour. The MIT researchers say that economies of scale have been the most important factor in keeping costs down over the past decade. In other words, as more solar modules are installed and manufactured globally, production has become cheaper and more efficient.
The cost of solar energy is rising this year due to supply chain issues. However, this rise is likely to be temporary as bottlenecks are resolved.