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Top 10 Solar Powered Countries: How Does the UK Compare?


In 2011, the UK was asserting itself as a fast-paced adopter of solar power technology but since then progress has stalled, despite the countless benefits solar power can offer to homeowners, businesses and the environment.

So, with more and more countries investing heavily in solar technology, how does the UK compare to the rest of the world?

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Top 10 Countries with the Most Installed Solar

We’ve taken a look at the total solar energy the UK is capable of harnessing, measured in gigawatts (GW), which is 1 billion watts, and compared that with other countries around the world.

PositionCountrySolar Capacity2016 Position
1China131 GW1st
2USA51 GW4th
3Japan49 GW2nd
4Germany42 GW3rd
5Italy19.7 GW5th
6India18 GW7th
7UK13 GW6th
8France8 GW8th
9Australia7.2 GW9th
10Spain5.6 GW10th

Source: International Energy Association (IEA)

A drop from 6th in 2016 to 7th in 2017 could be a sign of things to come, especially with the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) closing in 2019 as there will be less incentive to install, despite the lower energy bills that homeowners can benefit from.

UK Solar Installations Declining

When it comes to the rate at which the countries around the world are installing solar panels, it’s not great reading again for the UK. While we feature in the top 10, a difference of 52.1 GW with China in top spot really puts into perspective how slow of a year 2017 was for the UK in terms of solar installation.

Furthermore, solar installations across the UK for a calendar year are down from 1.97GW (2016) and 4.1GW (2015), making 2017 the third year in a row installations have halved.

Total Solar Installed in 12 Months: Top 10 Countries (2017 Data)

PositionCountrySolar Installed
1China53 GW
2USA10.6 GW
3India9.1 GW
4Japan7 GW
5Turkey2.6 GW
6Germany1.8 GW
7Australia1.25 GW
8South Korea1.2 GW
9UK0.9 GW
10Brazil0.9 GW

Source: International Energy Association (IEA)

Moving forward, SolarPower Europe, an organisation aiming to make solar the leading source of energy generation by 2030, have predicted that the UK’s contribution to European solar installations will be 2.1GW by 2022. This is dwarfed in comparison to their predictions for Germany (20 GW), France (11.7 GW) and Spain (8.8 GW).

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Why Should the UK Turn to Solar?

As part of the Climate Change Act, which the UK agreed to in 2008, the UK is aiming to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 80% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. To achieve these targets, a report by Aurora Energy Research has found that 50 GW of solar would need to be installed by 2050.

There are almost countless benefits that solar panels can have on the environment, including:

Renewable energy source: The sun is an incredibly powerful energy source, the amount of energy it sends to earth in an hour could power the whole world for an entire year. Plus, it’s providing free, renewable energy every single day and we’ll never run out, well for a few billion years at least.

Less reliance on fossil fuels: Fossil fuels are in increasingly short supply, unlike solar, there’s a limit to how much we can use.

Reduces air pollution: Burning fossil fuels to produce energy sends harmful emissions into the atmosphere, a major contributor to climate change. Solar energy, on the other hand, could reduce the carbon footprint of a home by 80%.

More and more countries are investing higher amounts in solar installation but the UK looks to be in decline despite it being much kinder on the environment than fossil fuels.

What are the Benefits of Solar?

It could be easy to think that the UK can’t compete with other countries in terms of solar power because we’re not treated to the same amount of sunlight during the year. However, modern solar panels don’t generate power from direct sunlight, it’s the solar radiation that the panels harness.

This means that even on the many cloudy days we experience here in the UK, solar panels will still be able to generate power and that’s just one of the reasons why we should turn to solar power:

  • First and foremost, solar is a renewable energy source that we can’t run out of unlike fossil fuels.
  • Once installed, solar panels require little to no maintenance during their typical lifetime of 20-25 years.
  • A typical solar PV system could prevent as much as 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.
  • The Value of homes generating electricity with solar power could increase.

Plus, while much of the conversation surrounding solar panels is about the electricity they can produce, solar thermal collectors heat the water used around your home using free energy.

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What is the Feed-in Tariff?

The Feed-in Tariff (FiT) is a scheme launched by the government that entitles homeowners and businesses generating their own electricity via solar PV panels to 20 years of payments. These payments are split into 2 parts:

  • Generation Tariff: Payments for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy generated by the solar PV panels.
  • Export Tariff: Any energy generated by the solar PV system that you don’t use will get sent to the National Grid, unless you have a solar battery. The amount you receive for this is determined by an export meter which measures the energy being sent. In the case that you don’t have an export meter, it will be estimated that you’re exporting 50% of the energy being generated by the panels.

This scheme has been a huge incentive for many homeowners and businesses to install solar panels but in July 2018, the government announced it would be closing.

Applying for the Feed-in Tariff

Considering that the Feed-in Tariff is due to close to new applications at the end of March 2019, early 2019 is the perfect time to install solar panels as you could still benefit from 20 years of government payments.

Time is of the essence though if you’d like to benefit from those coveted FiT payments. You’ll need to start by comparing quotes from multiple MCS accredited installers to get the best deal for you, then agree dates for the installation to take place which, depending on the size of the installation, could take 1-3 days.

After the installation, the installer will need to register the installation on the MCS database in no more than 10 days. You’ll then get a certificate which you can use to apply for the FiT:

  1. Apply to your energy supplier for the scheme with the MCS certificate and proof of ownership.
  2. Your supplier will confirm that your solar PV system is eligible for the FiT, if it is then your system will be added onto the Central FiT Register (CFR).
  3. After being approved, you’ll be sent the terms and conditions which you’ll need to sign

Once all of this has been completed, you’ll be entitled to receive 20 years of government payments through the Feed-in Tariff.

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What can the UK Learn from the Rest of the World?

So, why is it that while the UK seems to be in solar decline that a large number of other countries are investing more than ever in the renewable technology? Let’s take a look at how other countries are adopting solar and their ambitions for the future.

China

China is aiming to generate 70% of their total energy through solar power by 2050 and they’re not taking their time about it.

Japan

Japan has really stepped up investment in solar energy after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2005. Since then, 50 nuclear power plants have been inactive as they’ve turned to renewable energy.

Germany

Germany might have lost its place at the top of this list from a few years ago but they’re still very much the European leader for installed solar capacity despite receiving fewer hours of daylight than many other European nations.

Italy

Solar power accounts for around 26% of all energy generated in Italy and is expected to keep growing.

India

While India still has a way to go to achieve their target for 100 GW of installed solar by 2022, they’re moving towards it at a considerable rate which could help them to achieve it.

France

Rather than just installing the conventional solar power parks that many countries have, France is looking for innovative ways to generate solar energy. In 2016, the world’s first solar panel road, called ‘Wattway’, was opened.

Australia

The approval of the construction of several large solar farms, along with record numbers of homeowners choosing to install solar panels, will help Australia climb the top 10 in years to come.

Spain

Once upon a time, Spain was the country with the highest solar capacity but it’s been dropping rapidly, no thanks to the introduction of a 7% ‘sun tax’ in 2012. However, a newly elected government in 2018 is set to bring an end to the tax, helping to encourage homeowners in Spain to adopt solar power.

Brazil

Brazil might not be one of the top 10 countries for total solar installations but 2017 saw the South American nation install just as much as the UK. A sign of things to come from an emerging solar market.

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