Solar energy is becoming an increasingly desirable and viable alternative energy source. The sun can produce over ten thousand times more energy than our planet can, and many countries are now recognising the need to convert from traditional energy creation methods to those that are less harmful. These countries’ willingness to embrace this alternative energy source means that they are, as a result, leading the way in what is now a huge, multi-billion dollar industry that could shape the future of our planet forever. This blog post pays tribute to the top five, and the progress they have made in recent years.
For many years, Germany has been the leader in adopting solar energy technology, and shows no signs of slowing down. The Government announced in 2007 its objective to use one hundred percent renewable energy by 2050. In 2011, the country installed over 25 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) panels to both homes and businesses, providing 18 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. This now adds up to approximately 3% of the country’s total electricity consumption. Germany’s success in the solar energy field is down to a number of aspects, now embedded into German culture. First, the Government was one of the first to introduce many attractive financial incentives and assistance to businesses and individuals considering converting. Second, there are a large number of PV companies in the country, due to its large PV power plants (Strasskirchen Solar Park, Waldpolenz Solar Park, and Köthen Solar Park to name a few). Third, Germany has created an advanced level of public awareness, and therefore acceptance, of solar energy; its media has worked hard to portray the environmental and financial benefits, as well as heavily publicise the Government’s commitment to becoming a world leader in the industry.
Like Germany, Japan has big ambitions; the Government has set a target to reaching 53 GW of solar-generated energy by 2030. As a result, the country has invested heavily in incentives and programmes to encourage the installation of residential panels, as well as generous Feed-in Tariff systems. The Government is also extending its plan to public sector establishments; it has started to install solar panels to 32,000 of its schools and continues to invest billions of dollars in becoming a world leader in solar energy.
The United States is a major player in the solar energy world and is helping to pioneer alternative fuel technologies, largely due to its solar power plants. In California sits the Solar Energy Generating Systems facility – at 354 megawatts, it the largest solar installation in the world. The USA is also home to numerous other plants, such as Nevada Solar One and the DeSota Next Generation Solar Energy Centre in Florida. Perhaps due to an increasingly financially-savvy public – thanks to the country’s long-running recession – demand for the fitting of solar panels on homes doubled in 2009. The Government has also since introduced many incentives to help people pay for the cost of installing residential panels, which has ensured demand has increased significantly year-on-year. In the nineties, NASA in the United States helped set the scene. At the time the organisation was already making headlines with revolutionary consumer inventions such as a memory foam mattress, now available to the mass market; NASA then played a pivotal role in transferring solar cells to a flexible sheet that could be rolled up for storage. This later went on to become the basis for many of today’s mainstream solar panels.
Spain was a previous front-runner in the solar energy industry, before being overtaken by Germany in 2009. The country’s long-running economic slow-down has meant that ambitions to introduce a new Government initiative to help families and businesses install new PV systems was heavily delayed. However, Spain still remains one of the most advanced countries in terms of its solar energy technology and output – largely due to sunshine levels that are much higher than average. In 2004, the Spanish Government committed to “achieving a target of 12 percent of primary energy from renewable energy by 2010 with an installed solar generating capacity of 3,000 megawatts”. Spain is also a pillar of Germany’s success in the field, outputting 80 per cent of its solar power technology to the country. In 2010, Spain produced four gigawatts of power through solar energy, creating 6.9 billion kilowatt hours.
Italy is another country that has sunshine on its side. This, combined with its pioneering Feed-in Tariff systems, which enable the public and businesses to make money from producing renewable energy, has put Italy at the forefront of solar power. Photovoltaic panels have become extremely popular among Italians in recent years; in 2009, production of energy from PV panels rose 251% - this was, at the time, the second largest annual growth in the world. At the end of 2010, the country had over 155,000 photovoltaic plants, producing a total of 3,469 megawatts of energy.
Janet Redding is a freelance writer from England who specialises in covering everything from Tempur-Pedic comparison of organic mattresses to new energy sources