Chart: The top 10 countries with the most solar power

The behemoth at the top may not surprise you, but some unexpected players round out the list.

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Once the leading energy source of choice for survivalists and hippies, solar power is now expected to be the largest source of new generation capacity in the U.S. this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In fact, 2022 might be the first year that solar is the largest source of new added annual electricity generation (not nameplate capacity) in the world, according to BloombergNEF analyst Jenny Chase. BNEF forecasts that 233 gigawatts of new solar will be installed globally this year. It’s a mind-boggling figure given solar’s recent and modest origins — and Chase thinks even that bold forecast errs on the cowardly, or low, side.

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In our first-ever Chart of the Week, we illustrated the rapid growth of solar power production around the world and the decline in cost of solar modules that made solar power the cheapest electricity in history” as of 2020. With this cost decline, along with increasingly aggressive government targets to decarbonize electric grids, the world went from just over 220 gigawatts of solar installed in 2015 to almost 714 gigawatts by the end of 2020

While the top 10 solar contenders are widely dispersed around the globe, when it comes to country-by-country production, China is very much in the lead, touting over 35 percent of global solar capacity. It has no plans to give up its No. 1 spot anytime soon. The largest renewable energy project currently under construction in the world is in China; it could add as much as 400 gigawatts of solar and wind power. Trailing far behind in the No. 2 spot is the U.S., with less than one-third of China’s installed capacity. 

When it comes to generation per capita, however, a different story emerges, with Australia taking the lead. That is in part due to the country’s small population on a vast and sunny continent, though it might be moving up in overall installed capacity as well in coming years. Last year a consortium announced plans to build a Western Green Energy Hub in Australia that could deliver up to 50 gigawatts of hybrid wind and solar power. Germany and Japan are not far behind on per capita solar installed. 

Vietnam has been a somewhat surprising solar success story, going from barely any generation in 2018 to about 17 gigawatts by the end of 2020. It has more expansion planned through 2030 for both solar and wind generation as the country cleans up its grid. 

Look for an even sharper upward trajectory when the final figures are tallied for 2021 — the numbers in the chart above are a year-old snapshot, and the solar market is evolving more rapidly than anyone ever expected.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial and research associate at Canary Media.